Archive for December, 2006|Monthly archive page

In Uncategorized on December 30, 2006 at 5:55 pm


while sleeping the mid-morning away i dreamed that i was attending a seminary wherein prospective ministers created sermons that explained the sexual perversity of their senior pastors, every ministerial candidate was required to take a counseling course that focused solely on divorce and the seminarian’s children often climbed a plastic tower of babel that towered over spring-loaded lions and lambs and other biblically inspired playground equipment.

that would be one weird seminary, but not without worth.


In Uncategorized on December 25, 2006 at 3:00 pm

ecclesiological musing

first off, i would like to wish everyone a merry christmas and a happy festivus for the rest of us.

for the past five days i’ve been visiting family and friends throughout oklahoma* and texas. by and large, my trip has been excellent. i’ve spent a good deal of time with family, found a long out-of-print baseball novel by mark winegardner and have reconnected with a number of old friends.**

it was one of the latter connections*** that sparked a suspicion that has been burning within me ever since. here’s what happened: late last week i had a ‘bucks breakfast with a friend that had recently left his position at a mega-church in a distant state for a number of reasons (principle among which was to honor his mother and father and, perhaps, find respite from the non-stop intensity of congregational church ministry). throughout our conversation, my friend spoke about his transition as “leaving the ministry.” this term did not sit right with me from the outset since, as i reminded my friend, “any life of discipleship is a commitment to serve or minister to others. there’s no getting around this commitment we made.” my friend readily agreed with my assertion, yet throughout the conversation he continued to fall back into the pattern of speaking of his transition as though it was a disassociation from his calling. so that was the experience which sparked my suspicions.

the second experience took place last night at a beautiful christmas eve service here in amarillo. in the midst of a beautiful sermon concerning the rupture of the incarnation the preacher noted that the world is not any less dark or filled with war than it was at the time of the Savior’s birth. however, he opined, “we know that Jesus did not come to put an end to war, but to save individual hearts and souls from sin.” now, i realize that Jesus himself told us that we would hear of “wars and rumours of wars” until the time eternal breaks into the present time. moreover, i know he pleaded with communities full of broken individuals who were “weary and burdened” to come to Him and find rest. however, i do not think that the redemption that Jesus offers communities and the individuals involved in those communities is merely a bloody solution for individual sin. rather, i think that Jesus has redeemed communities of disciples so that we can rage against the darkness of war, poverty and oppression. one only need think of the Christ-infused, non-violent war that martin luther king lead against american apartheid or the, perhaps Christ-inspired, salt campaign that ghandi led against the british, to realize that such revolutions are possible.

anyway, this is a long winded way of saying that i suspect that evangelicalism throughout the south is laboring under an incipient gnosticism that is threatening to dull the reconciling and revolutionary power of the gospel.**** i fear that if we who are followers of Christ fail to work for, incite and experience reconciliation with one another and the re-creation of our communities now, we will never be able to fully enter into the impending fullness of the Kingdom of God that southern churches constantly proclaim.

so that’s what i’m thinking about on the day we celebrate the long-awaited incarnation of Jesus Christ. i’d love to hear your response to and reflections upon these assertions.*****

* did you know that next year oklahoma is going to celebrate its centennial? i’m sure that will inspire raucous celebrations throughout the five indian nations that once called oklahoma their own. as i’ve noted before, in order to take the land oklahoma sits on away from a people group you have to be really intent on screwing them.
** including, this guy, whom i met for lunch at the mcdonald’s over the highway in vinita, ok. glamorous.
*** not for this guy that i mentioned above, but that other guy i see from time to time.
**** for the record, i know that i am not the only one to make such observations about the south, but i’ve never seen the docetic (i.e., the dualistic form of gnosticism that seeks to completely bifurcate the spiritual truth from the fleshly reality) influence as clearly as i have on this trip. moreover, just to let you know that i’m not simply bashing upon my homeland, i’ll freely admit that their are other historic christian heresies such as arianism that seem to blight the region i currently call home.
***** please note that they are, in fact, assertions about what i have observed in this particular place during this particular time. they are not in any way intended as accusations concerning a region and churches that i dearly love.

In Uncategorized on December 22, 2006 at 3:29 pm

david sedaris as crumpet the christmas elf

this morning, on my way back from an early morning ‘bucks meeting with an old friend, i heard david sedaris recount his experience as crumpet the christmas elf. i cannot tell you how refreshing it was to hear the stories of someone who is as tangled up in and hates christmas.*

i hope you can take a minute to listen to this hysterical story. the first person to identify my favorite crumpet punch line will receive one poo dollar.

* for the record, i really like advent. i don’t mind a christmas that is preceded by a season of hopeful repentance. it’s the christmases that are wrapped in credit card debt and horrific mall experiences that i totally abhor.

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2006 at 11:35 pm

dear santa, thank you for dying for our gifts*

* many thanks to kidpositive for turning me on to a christmas story i’ll be proud to share with my children.

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2006 at 10:01 pm

for shits and grins

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2006 at 4:20 pm

ministerial musing

the further i walk down this way the more confounded i become about my calling. i have no idea why God called such a sinner to serve His saints and i question whether i could ever proclaim with st. paul, “follow me as i follow Christ.”

fortunately, although i don’t have the depth of character that is expected of ministers and am one of the most relationally retarded people to ever enter pastoral ministry, i have not been left bereft of role models. as i continue upon this way, i resonate with the stories of graham greene’s whisky priest* and uncle freddy’s godric all the more.

as with the whisky priest, i am a vain, narcissistic man who is almost as fixated on my own interests as i am undone by the sacraments and the opportunity i have to share such gracious secrets with the world. moreover, like God’s wreck** i can sometimes feel God unfolding through my hands and it is on account of those rare emanations that i will never fully surrender to the sins of my flesh nor, i suspect, leave this life of embodied compassion and proclamation.

so there you go. rick warren has w.a. criswell, leighton ford had billy graham*** and i have godric and the whisky priest. i am so utterly thankful for these companions who, along with a surprisingly large contingent of three dimensional characters,**** are encouraging me to remain upon this way.

* his story is recounted in the power and the glory.
** this is one possible etymological root of the name Godric. or at least it might be. the latter character is, on regular occasion, completely full of shit. is it any wonder that i love him?

*** speaking of, if you want to have your heart completely broken, read this
washington post article about bessie the cow, billy’s burial place and the striking hubris of the billy frank’s son.
**** in this midst of this horribly beautiful year, wherein God has focused on teaching me obedience through my sufferings, one of these friends admonished me in the midst of such discipline to “not loose all your rough edges.” “for that,” she continued, “is part of your charm.” such words, from such a woman, just about killed me.

In Uncategorized on December 15, 2006 at 5:33 pm

the long-awaited return of your fired friend

over the past three weeks i have been pushing out resumes, updating ms office skills and watching far too much television. in the midst of my inertia, i haven’t been writing all that much. so in an effort to update you, dear readers, on the minutiae of my life and circumvent writer’s block i’m going to run a little online diary for the next four hours.

12:38 p.m.: hey there, sinners and saints. your fired friend is coming to you live from an undisclosed location in southeastern new hampshire where i am currently manning a switchboard for a well-known waste management company. i could tell you more about my current assignment, but then i’d have to kill you.

12:40: okay, okay, i relent. i can tell you that this facility administrates the distribution of nuclear waste throughout the pacific northwest and my primary job is to answer incoming calls from robotic telemarketers who call fifteen times a hour to whisper scintillating, spanish nothings in my ear and offer services that i dare not mention on this family-friendly sit. oh mama citas. if only i was single!

12:46: if you aren’t watching friday night lights you should be ashamed of yourself. the show provides one of the most poignant pictures of small town life that i have ever seen. i want to write more about this show at a later date, but i will tell you this: at some point in almost every episode, i find myself on the verge of tears. i realize that the latter fact probably means little to the cry at hallmark commercials and lust for “oprah moments” set, but for me such expressions of emotion are rare. did i mention that you can watch every episode of friday night lights for free until january 3rd? there you go, you have no excuse.

1:11: in addition to hanging up on telemarketers i am beginning to suspect that my primary role at this undisclosed location is to hand out candy and willfully converse with nerds.

1:23: i’m in the midst of reading mark winegardner’s the godfather’s revenge and, as much as it pains me, i’ve got to say ehhh. i believe that winegardner is one of our finest writers (i.e., crooked river burning) and i love mario puzo and mob stories in general. however, i suspect that winegardner would be better served by creating works of his own invention rather than maintaining and expanding the storylines of others. that being said, it was a bit of a thrill to hear a mention of mikey z in another context.*

1:43: confession: i hate it when people ask me what i do for a living. i’ve always thought that i should be a professional and having to tell people that i work in customer service or i’m pimping by the hour just about kills me. i suppose i could tell them that i’m a bi-vocational minister, but what the hell does that mean to most people? sometimes, i don’t even know what the latter term means myself.

1:46: in light of that confession i would like to thank God for his wholehearted commitment to my humility.

2:00: okay, i’m boring myself and focused on finishing this book. salut!

3:04: okay, now i’m bored with being bored, so it must be time for a list.

books i’ve read and enjoyed as of late: the mysteries of pittsburgh by michael chabon; fever pitch by nick hornby; friday night lights** by buzz bissinger; and how (not) to speak of God by peter rollins.

books i’ve cracked but could not seem to finish: the coast of akron*** by adrienne miller; no logo**** by naomi klein; and summerland by michael chabon.

currently on my lit list: a well-paid slave: curt flood’s fight for free agency in professional sports by brad snyder; vera cruz blues by mark winegardner; heaven lake by john dalton; and a couple of engaging books concerning the continent of africa*****.

* to make sense of the latter comment, you’ll need to read crooked river.
** so hot, want to touch the hiney!
*** my failure to finish this tome does not diminish my derivative suspicion that midwestern fiction (see crooked river burning, the mysteries of pittsburgh and the corrections for starters) is currently every bit as good as southern fiction.
**** guess i just wasn’t lovin’ on my liberal side that day.
***** any ideas? please share.

In Uncategorized on December 8, 2006 at 9:59 pm

an advent canticle

when my body lies in the ruins
of the lies that nearly ruined me
will you pick up the pieces that were pure and true
and breathe your life into them
and set them free?

~uncle rich, be with you

In Uncategorized on December 3, 2006 at 5:58 pm

where, o death, is your victory?

i really don’t know how to talk about these things, so i’m just going to spew them out.

by almost all measures, this has been an absolutely horrible year. in january, i lost a job that i had just started to enjoy after almost six years of meaningless toil. unsurprisingly, that dismissal led to a depression the likes of which i had not experienced since ’95 or ’96. ultimately, my fear of being unemployed led me to accept a job that was not challenging and did not utilize my capabilities. and, to top it off, i lost my loser job the week of thanksgiving when my former, trite giftware company was acquired by a company that peddles even more useless tripe than we did.

moreover, although i’ve always been a little relationally inept, i have never felt as relationally retarded* as i do right now. throughout this year a number of my family and friends have slogged through valleys of unmentionable pain and i have not known how to support them. i haven’t abandoned my dear ones, but i have had little more to offer than a willingness to walk beside them through their personal hells. the combination of my inability to effectively support my friends with my occupational ineptitude eventually led me towards a psychologist’s couch where i have graciously and carefully been encouraged to visit the dark corners of my heart where i have always loathed to tread and confront the fact that though i am surrounded by supporting family and unsurpassed community i continually choose to live as an exile** in the illusory comfort of the margins.

in addition to my occupational and relational issues, i am as confident in my vocation as i am utterly unable to fulfill it. this year has also burdened the sinners and saints community with a number of difficult transitions, convoluted conflicts and missional uncertainties. in the midst of such chaotic times i have not provided clear leadership nor even had a clear picture of what such leadership might be. the only things i have been able to provide are regular teachings on the gospels of luke and occasional glimpses into a soul that is currently being reconstructed. what is more, for some unknown reason in the midst of such ineptitude i have stumbled into a couple of other opportunities to lead and serve. these latter opportunities are at least as horrifying as they are encouraging.

and yet, in the midst of all of this i realize that i am growing in wisdom, stature and favor with God and man at a rate that i have not for almost a decade. in the midst of my ineptitude, i am more in love with God and invested in the incarnational mission of Christ than i have ever been. ironically, the realization of my relational retardation has not alienated me from others but has bound me more tightly to them. it is as though God is simultaneously separating the strands of our lives so that He can weave us together into a basket that can receive, display and serve his beauty, goodness and truth to others. lastly, i have not lamented the loss of my latest job for one moment, but am leaning into the more useful, if not meaningful, employ that God will provide.

there is no doubt that this has been a horrible year indeed. but, in the end, i cannot thank either the Creator or those who have endured it by my side enough for it.

* i usually hate this word and would never use it to refer to people who have significant birth defects, mental and/or physical disabilities. but, for some reason, that is the only word that adequately describes my self-assessment in this area. thus, i do not use this term lightly.

** which is, i suspect, the reason that i am completely in love with the person of Jesus. but that’s a story for another day.

In Uncategorized on December 1, 2006 at 10:06 pm

early this morning christianity today news briefs reported that:

“The trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary voted 36-1 on October 17 to prohibit professors or administrators from promoting charismatic practices, such as private prayer languages. In August, a new seminary trustee, Dwight McKissic, told students during a chapel service that he prays in tongues. McKissic, a pastor in Arlington, Texas, has criticized the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board for barring missionaries from using private prayer languages.”

in related news, in a blatant attempt to bind the feet of female chinese ministers who are walking away from the baptist faith and mission statement, the international mission board’s committee on house church ministry has redefined all female led congregations as multi-dimensional children’s ministries.

finally, last week at the national missionary convention hosted by the independent christian churches, churches of christ, the delegates took the unprecedented step of affirming and publishing a non-binding, yet unquestionably biblical, theological statement that will guide all future missionary endeavors. the agreed upon statement reads as follows: “we the autonomous, male missionaries of the indepedent christian churches, churches of christ do hereby agree that while one must not necessarily be immersed to be saved, one is surely going to hell if one is not.” in a brief follow-up statement, convention chair michael nichols suggested that the statement was an attempt to both refute the charges of paedo-baptism that have been regularly raised against the un-denomination through the years and divide the group from any other christian denomination that views the practice differently.

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