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Archive for September, 2011|Monthly archive page

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

In Uncategorized on September 19, 2011 at 4:46 pm

(Well, Maybe Not Today, but It Was Twenty Years Ago)

Submitted By: Kevin Smith Clark

My mind works like this quote from Lucas in Empire Records: “Who knows where thoughts come from, they just appear.”  I don’t hide the fact that my favorite album of all-time is U2’s Achtung Baby.  Yes, I like it more than The Joshua Tree.  No, I don’t have something wrong with me.  It’s a more complete album.  It’s not my problem…it’s yours.  But it hit me as I was driving around a couple weeks ago…this album I cherish turns 20 this year.  But it’s not the only important album that was released in 1991.  I humbly submit to you the Important Albums of 1991 (had Dr. Dre’s The Chronic dropped in ’91 instead of ’92, this article would be arguing it was the most Important Year in music since The Beatles).  NOTE: these are not all my favorite albums…I don’t even like some of them, but that doesn’t minimize each’s importance, and are in no particular order.

U2, Achtung Baby.  So good, I’ll mention it twice.  Important because this was the follow-up to the Joshua Tree/Rattle and Hum frenzy that took America by storm, and then took a three year hiatus.  As expected, it wasn’t what fans anticipated.  Different.  Looser.  Sexier. Colorful (remember all the b & w album covers?).  After the first two tracks, complaints about no “With or Without You,” but by track three, the trump card: “One.”  By track seven, “The Fly,” track eight, “Mysterious Ways,” and possibly the most underrated song in their catalog, “Ultraviolet (Light My Way).”  It’s important because it took the band in a new direction, and invited us to follow.  Some did, some didn’t.  I was 14 and on the fence…but experienced a full conversion some 10 years later, when I finally “got it.”

Nirvana, Nevermind.  I was working with my dad at our rental property, drywalling, when I heard that opening lick coming out of Dad’s crappy solid state AM/FM.  “What the…?”  It wasn’t metal.  It wasn’t rock.  It wasn’t anything I’d ever heard before.  And according to Dad, I was to “turn that $#!& off.”  Too late.  This Seattle trio had sunk it’s hooks into me, as well as the rest of America.  The final nail in the hair band coffin had been driven.  The Grunge Age had begun.  Quick, find your plaid flannels.

Guns N’ Roses, Use Your Illusion I & II.  Okay, maybe I spoke too soon about the hair bands, but these guys were never Poison or Def Leppard.  They weren’t your friends and didn’t desire your company.  They were here to punch your face in with rock.  If you were an early teen Summer of ’91 and heard “You Could Be Mine” set to Arnold in Terminator 2, you couldn’t wait to get your hands on the rest of this album.  And being a band that majored in indulgences, G’N’R gave us two, bloated, pretentious albums that were sprinkled with greatness (“Don’t Cry,” “November Rain,” “Civil War,” “Estranged,” and my guilty pleasure “Breakdown”).  Important because they still had the stones they exhibited in Appetite For Destruction, and because it would be the last time the gang was all together.

Metallica, Self-titled (commonly “The Black Album”).  The real “metal” people will rip this album and its creators for being sell-outs.  I had heard Metallica’s “One” in seventh grade, and I liked it, but simply didn’t connect with the rest of their thrashing.  But this…this I could listen to…I could connect with it.  And so did millions of others, which makes it important.  It introduced a harder rock/metal/whatever to the mainstream…who knows, maybe this is the root of all the Napster angst?  Nevertheless, “Enter Sandman,” “The Unforgiven,” and  “Nothing Else Matters,” were all good tunes, metal or not.  And 20 years later, “Wherever I May Roam” still gets my blood pumping!  Yeah, YEAAAAHHHH!

R.E.M., Out of Time.  Like the previous listing, this one will get ripped for it’s un-REM-ness.  Or, one may argue, that REM had already hit big.  Nay, I say.  They had some hits (“The One I Love,” “It’s the End of the World…” and “Stand”) but those were scattered across a few albums.  But this one packed them together, and again, gave REM a wider audience.  I don’t care what you think (now) about “Shiny, Happy People.”  It was a hit, and started making “alternative” music more accessible.

Pearl Jam, Ten. I was a Nirvana fan until I heard “Even Flow”…then I jumped ship.  Not as angry as Nirvana, but just as powerful (and musically, more talented).  I remember going to the mall trying to find a copy of this CD.  Nobody had it.  All sold out.  It’s importance: try 13x platinum, not to mention more of that grunge sound coming from the Northwest.  Soundgarden and Alice in Chains would soon follow.

Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Maybe the theme from ’91 was “breakthrough.” The Chili Peppers had mild success already, but exploded onto to scene with “Give it Away,” and the addiction-anthem “Under the Bridge.” It provided an alternative to Grunge and a hearkening back to the funk of 1970s.

Garth Brooks, Ropin’ the Wind. I’m sure I’ve lost some of you now, but if you’re wondering why Lady Antebellum and Keith Urban are so popular now, blame Garth and this album.  It was country, but didn’t sound like Conway Twitty (cue the “Family Guy” cutaway).  It debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200, and sold 14 million copies nationwide…and it wasn’t all to country music lovers.

Runners-up: A Tribe Called Quest, The Low End Theory; Boyz II Men, Cooleyhighharmony; Matthew Sw

The Conversion of a Contrarian, Part 3

In Uncategorized on September 10, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

Leaving L’Arche was – but for my matriculation at The Citadel – the dumbest decision of my life. At our house on Greenwood Ave in Toronto, I lived into community with core members who lived with disabilities and compassionate, diverse people from Europe and North America.  In the midst of the daily rhythms of waking, sleeping, cleaning, cooking, laughing, and prayer, I felt more centered than I ever had before.

I was honored when the community invited me to stay for several more years since, as Melvin – one of the core members in our house said – “I have a lot left to teach you.” After a week or so reflection I chose to exchange this community for a half-scholarship at Gordon-Conwell. Although I met a few lifelong friends at the latter institution, the MDiv experience had such a minimal influence on my formation that is not worthy of additional consideration.*

Quite unlike seminary, my experiences within the church were incredibly influential. After tooling around North Shore Churches with she who should not be named for a month or two, I found a home at Manchester Christian Church (MCC) in late 2000. Although I was already starting to react against the reductionistic tendencies of megachurch worship – i.e., I questioned the value of sermons on The Prayer of Jabez and was hesitant to clap my hands and glibly sing “show us your power O Lord, our God” – I knew and respected the pastor and had an immediate opportunity to serve in the small groups ministry.

So it was that on Wednesday nights for 2.5 years I had the privilege of reading scripture and praying with the 20-somethings from MCC. Since Sunday morning worship was content-lite, we explored Romans, Luke, James and other books passage by passage and wrestled with the implications of the text. Since I was in the verge of embracing Reformed Theology at the time, I used the exploration of Romans to bounce Calvinist arguments off of the group and challenge the cultural accomodationist approach and Arminian tinged preaching at MCC. The 20-something group was one of the most diverse and intriguing I have walked with before or since. Missionary kids sat next to townies who dated strippers.** Manic depressives walked beside passionately devotional South Koreans. Occasionally a MCC intern from Lincoln Christian College would stop by and would assess the experience after with enthusiastic statements like “it is clear you are gifted in this context of ministry,” perhaps implicitly suggesting that I had found my level and should not compete with them for more responsibility in the congregational community.

I will always be thankful for my time at MCC and especially for the people who I walked beside in the 20-something group. However, after a brief encounter at yuppie pool hall in Manchester, I started to realize it was time to go. If memory serves, one of the occasional attenders of our small group asked the Associate Minister at MCC – who was and continues to be a trustworthy friend – why the church let LCC interns preach but never extended an invitation to me. The minister replied, without malice, that “the church can’t trust what Gentry will say.”

That floored me and, when revisited, fills me still with a teary rage. At that time and up until now, I have been committed to preaching sermons that are shaped by the content, tone, and apparent intent of specific biblical passages – no pick-a-passage topical sermon shit from me – and have sought not to import a foreign agenda into my sermons. Yet, in the land where acontextual glosses on The Prayer of Jabez were considered appropriate, I was not trusted to respeak the scripture within the community I loved.

I know the pastor well enough to know that the intention of his statement was instructional and true. The same pastor had invited me to Soularize 2001 in Seattle and paid my way. He had also introduced me to the concept of home churches, welcomed me into his backyard to learn about this ecclesiology at the feet of Joe Boyd and Kevin Rains, and was doing careful pastoral work by helping me find a new trajectory.

Shortly thereafter, I left MCC and set out with James and Brooke Wilcox, who would subsequently become closer than a brother or a sister, to start a home church confederacy with some displaced Southern Baptists.

Since then lots of water has raced under a bridge I have tried desperately not to burn. I know I’ve hit this time and again, but the Christian Church, Church of Christ tradition (CCOC) that I cannot seem to live within and cannot seem to tolerate me is the tradition that I cannot seem to leave.

Kevin Smith Clark mentioned in passing the other day that his interpretation of the CCOC is probably frozen in time from when he left the tradition 11 years ago. I haven’t practiced within the tradition for almost the same amount of time, yet I’m still finding it so hard to let go.

Is the salvation of a contrarian constituted not only by burying “truths” and traditions that are no longer tenable, but rising to a life of characterized by tension those he loves, contradicts, and cannot find the courage to leave?

I don’t know. But me and my bleeding asshole*** sure think so. I do know that after years of deeply meaningful ministry in small, diverse, interdenominational churches, our family is on the cusp of incorporation into the Anglican**** tradition, and I am deeply conflicted about a tradition that left me before I left it almost a decade ago.

* GCTS flacks, before you ask the answer is yes, you can definitely quote me for the promotional brochure. You can even double the impact by juxtaposing the quote with softly lit shot a smiling minority student.

** Sounds like a Hold Steady song doesn’t it?

*** Fortunately only hemorrhoids and nothing worse.

**** I’m referring to the communion, not the ACNA and AMIA churches primary populated by fellow exiles from Anabaptist, Pentecostal, and “Independent” church traditions.

Slowfo’s 2011 Football Preview

In Uncategorized on September 5, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Submitted By: Slowfo

Being raised in Oklahoma, one would think it to be a natural occurrence that I would become a fan of the football teams I now follow. Growing up, my dad was a Dallas Cowboys fan and had always said that you stick by your team during the good years or the bad. “Don’t be a band-wagon jumper!” he would exclaim with pride. He would never stoop to such cheap, shallow shenanigans! That pride has been ingrained in me that you never give up your team. So I’m still a Cowboys fan (and a Baltimore Orioles fan…..pray for me) in spite of the Jerry Jones embarrassments as well as their playoff ineptitude of late. Meanwhile, my dad has reversed course from his old team-following proverb to the point that it would not surprise me if, when asked “What team are you following this year, Dad?” He might reply with, “Who’s winning?”

As for becoming a fan of the mighty Sooners, I blame Texas (which is always fun to do! are they responsible for the demise of the Big 12? hook ’em). In Oklahoma, there are multitudes of obnoxious Sooner fans to the point that as a kid, I grew weary of constantly hearing about them and their magical wishbone formations. I could have been an Oklahoma State fan but they rarely win and are annually sour about their never-ending little brother status in this state. I couldn’t care less about either team until I uprooted my family in 1999 to Texas. My new Texan friends automatically concluded that since I was from Oklahoma, I must be a Sooners fan and proceeded to weekly give me all sorts of grief about the state of the Sooners and how much better their Longhorns were (remember my comment on how obnoxious Sooner fans can be? Well, take that and multiply x2 for Longhorn fans. Makes sense. Everything’s bigger in Texas, right?). Let me remind you that this same year a guy by the name of Bob Stoops was hired as Oklahoma’s coach. I like that guy. And all of the sudden, he started shutting up those Texas fans that I dealt with every day. Since then, I’ve loved Bob and those Sooners and I’ll stick by my team no matter how many national championships they win or refuse to show up for (see money-injected USC’s 55-19 drubbing in 2005).

On with the Cowboys/Sooners preview for 2011:

Let’s start with the not-so-great first. The Dallas Cowboys. I’m hopeful about Jason Garrett as coach. Maybe his Ivy League education will help this team play a little smarter than they did last year when they were one of the most penalized teams under Wade Phillips. Rob Ryan will give the defense some spark although he won’t have good enough players yet to really make an impact with. Special teams are iffy although it will be fun to watch former Oklahoma State kicker, Dan Bailey and former Oklahoma Sooners superstar RB Demarco Murray see if they can make a difference. The whole team looks good but not quite good enough to me. Romo at QB, Felix Jones at RB, an aging linebacker corp, and an improving but young offensive line tell me that this team goes 8-8, or 9-7 at best this year. Playoffs are doubtful unless Garrett can get this team to overachieve.

As for the Oklahoma Sooners, they’ve started the year as the #1 team in every poll in the country (I think that’s right….I’m too lazy to look them all up) and that has me worried. The preseason favorite hardly ever actually becomes national champ. The Sooners offense is incredibly powerful and deep. Their defense is very good but suspect. All American Travis Lewis is hurt at least for the next several weeks and their defensive line is potentially weak. The worst part of this team is still their place kicking which will likely cost them at least one game this year and will make others closer than necessary. Landry Jones and the Sooners will need to get over their fear of wearing their white jerseys. When this team is on the road, recent history has shown they can be extremely vulnerable. My prediction – Landry Jones will be a Heisman candidate but not the winner. The Sooners will be a National Championship participant but sadly will lose to Alabama. Consequently the vocal minority of Sooner fans in this state will unbelievably call for Bob Stoop’s head for once again getting the team to the dance but not winning their 8th national championship. The Sooners only loss aside from the championship will come on Sept. 17 to Florida State; but the best game to watch this year will be Bedlam – Oklahoma at Oklahoma State on December 3rd. It will once again be a battle for the ages but the Sooners will come out on top as they tend to do against the Pokes. Congrats to OSU though for really upgrading their program (cool new uniforms to boot!) and making this state a football haven to reckon with. Enjoy the college football season and we’ll see you in the PAC-16 next year!

Shameless Self-Promotion (for Jesus)

In Uncategorized on September 5, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

My wife loves me enough to leave me out of a Labor Day tramp throughout the North Shore. As I sit here in the backyard listening to the breeze she’s off with ours, our niece and her mom to visit Rockport, Russell Orchards, & Crane’s Beach. One of three, I’d definitely do. Two of three, I’d be a probably. But three of three? Have I mentioned how much I love my wife?

Since she’s out, I’m going to turn to shameless promotion before dedicating my energies to reading, sipping coffee and drinking beer.

First, tomorrow night the Greater Boston Emergent Cohort is meeting at The Gathering at 7 pm. Our good friend Blake Huggins is joining us to discuss ecclesiology and the emergent conversation in light of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Blake is on the verge of moving to Nashville – which is clearly a pity – so don’t miss this opportunity to join the conversation and make future claims you knew noted Blake Huggins back then. If you can’t make the conversation, feel free to join us at the Gulu Gulu at 9.

Second, as the occasional hint of fall in the air and the annual rollout of harpoon’s octoberfest beer suggests,* Salem’s month long Halloween celebration is almost upon us. This year, like many others prior, I’m inviting you to join the Gathering tribe in the streets as we serve hot chocolate, pray, play, confess, bless and drag our asses to China Jade or Beer Works after to recuperate from the divine mess.

In the years past we’ve been surprised by the power of what we considered hipster evangelical clichés by doing the reverse confession booth a la Blue Like Jazz.

Others have proclaimed and woven the gospel stories into the lives of others by reading from the Jesus Deck.

Still others have offered death by chocolate to promote fair trade, convert to Equal Exchange, and share the message of Not for Sale.

Join us in doing our damnedest to bless the city on:

Children’s Day, a city-wide, cost-efficient family celebration on Saturday, October 8th. Children’s Day includes a costume parade, $1 hot dogs, discounted dominoes pizza, and free entertainment. It primarily serves residents of the city of Salem and is a great first step towards serving the city during Halloween.

And the weekends of October 14-16, 21-22, and 28-31.

We’re looking for people to serve hot chocolate, sound techs to run our stage (one of the largest in Salem), monks to bless, Jesus lovers to read, and people who’ve always wanted to try something of their own creative design in a spiritually open environment but have never found the place or time to do so.

I am so grateful when friends like the lovely and amazing KeefePerry’s, the Brownings, and the crew from Sojourn Collegiate Ministries join us. This year, I hope to see you out there as well!

Now, I’ve got to get to that coffee and, if I can find the energy, do the post-Irene backyard re-set or run a load of laundry. Whether I see you at cohort or on the streets during Halloween, it’s a blessing to serve beside ya.

The Conversion of a Contrarian, Part 2

In Uncategorized on September 5, 2011 at 3:09 am

Submitted By: Gentry

At the end of the last post I intimated that God had slowly started to “transform my contrarianism.”

This phrase is additional evidence that I neither love words nor am anywhere near patient enough to make a living by writing. Neither God nor anyone else has “transformed,” by contrarianism. I think that anyone who has walked with me for a number of those years would agree that my contrarianism has been re-oriented – hopefully, most of the time, for the good – but it damn sure hasn’t been transformed. The latter word would suggest that one of the core components of my personality has miraculously changed into something else allegedly more noble. I assure you that it has not.

Now that the clarification is posted we can move on.

Over the years I’ve heard a number of earnest eyed preachers appropriate Leonard Cohen’s line that “there is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Let me assure you that the aforementioned conversion that I experienced must have been a hairline crack, because it took a lot of time for the light to get in. If my fractured self hadn’t been set by the right window, I’m not sure the light would have ever gotten in at all.

When I arrived at that window by curving around the backside of 100 campus view drive, I almost immediately felt out of my element. I was greeted by a dorm dad who informed me that “yes, you can purchase cable, but know ahead of time that MTV is blocked and not available.” When I responded to that restriction with a poorly reasoned jeremiad about a station I didn’t even watch (since Beavis and Butthead was no longer on), he smiled and said, “Doesn’t this one sound like a preacher?”

I’d heard similar, apparently baseless, inquiry shaped assumptions before, but it still didn’t resonate with me. In the few days that followed, as freshmen herded through the common areas like cattle, and I carefully avoided assumed attendance at an orientation day at a Christian camp (talk about two strikes against an activity), I started to wonder whether I had made a huge mistake exchanging $3,200 in compulsory alcohol counseling and a subsequent bench warrant, for a room on E-1 and enrollment at Lincoln Christian College (sorry, I can’t say university, because much as I love ya, you’re not).

Fortunately my initial reactions were completely wrong. Although Lincoln was a socially conservative environment – marked by the Republican campaign signs taped onto many windows – it invited honest theological inquiry and surprisingly flexible social regulations (I smoked many cigarettes in both the hole we dug on the hill behind Titus and the bed of Wes’ truck and never gave a thought to obeying curfew).

My contrarian tendencies did not disappear at Lincoln. In Interdisciplinary Studies 101, I quickly realized that I wasn’t aligned with James Sire’s gold standard of Christian Theism, but was, according to his lights, a Christian Existentialist. This tendency wasn’t rejected, but I was challenged to work them out. Likewise, after a damn near soul numbing internship at a traditional church in the armpit of the universe (ask Aaron Monts where that’s located), I caught on with a Willow Creek Association (WCA) affiliated church in a fairly rich suburb of Milwaukee. Although at the time the majority of LCC professors were vigorously critiquing, rather than moonlighting at, WCA inspired megachurches, I was encouraged to invest myself fully in this more culturally sensitive ecclesiological context.

All this is not to say that every day was rosy at LCC. After years of frustration, I finally learned that, try as I might to avoid it, my personality is bound to piss off one professor, fellow student, or person in 10. Although I received an unexpectedly nasty note or two in my campus box and a couple of professors questioned my character, usually in the passive aggressive way that has long been mastered by evangelicals and southern mothers, I was blessed to meet a number of amazing conspirators who might not have always stood behind (for good reason) but have stood beside me until this very day (you know who you are).

On my way out the door at LCC I, perhaps stupidly (since I would have learned more sitting under Dr. Lowery and Dr. Castelein than damn near anyone at Gordon Conwell), turned aside offers to attend Lincoln Christian Seminary in order to attend GCTS. In addition, instead of interning again in a church I decided to go live in a L’Arche community that was led by a remarkable man who also happened to be a homosexual. Although the latter fact gave both my spiritual director and I pause,  he ultimately encouraged me to head to Toronto. Both my insolent rejection and, I can’t help but believe it was truly inspired, decision to head to L’Arche were evidence that my contrarian tendencies were intact.

LCC helped fix my eyes on following Jesus and learn to long for the new tree whose leaves bring the healing of the nations. The gifted students and staff helped me realize that my contrarian take needed to be reoriented, but not replaced as I moved forward hopefully, mostly, in the steps of Jesus.

My trajectory has since led me away from Christian Churches, Churches of Christ tradition in which I was raised and which serve as LCC’s base, but without those four years I shudder to think who or where I might be.

I’m thankful for that window that let the light in and for the additional cracks that were to develop in the years to come.

The Conversion of a Contrarian, Part 1

In Uncategorized on September 4, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

According to my family – who has an admitted tendency to interpret my motivations charitably – I was quite empathetic as a child. Until the age of 10 I was quick to identify and create common cause with those whom deviated from the Bible Belt norm.

Sometimes this created awkward moments for my family such as the time I raved about my friend’s awesome teeth to my mother all the way to her birthday party. Upon arrival, my mother told my friend’s mom that I was so fascinated by her daughter’s teeth, she just had to take a look. When her daughter’s smile revealed an orthodontic catastrophe embedded in a buck toothed jaw, her mom went icy and mine horrified.

In fifth grade my closest friend was named Gabe. Due to what I now suspect was a pretty substantial case of Autism, Gabe was developmentally challenged. Except for math, I was not so, but we still partnered on every project we could, studied our spelling words together, and far preferred on another’s company to that offered by our other classmates. I have no memories of Gabe beyond fifth grade, but our friendship was the first stop on the road that eventually lead to L’Arche and later to Triangle.

Sometime in my sixth grade year, my empathy started to be encrusted by anger. For reasons I don’t even remember, I introduced the fully rounded, smiling face of the class pet to a cinder block. In distinct opposition to my earlier tendencies, I baited the new buck toothed, and by all appearances barely parented, resident of our block into a street fight. I started to consider the numerous friends I had made in elementary school beneath my company, so I searched other elementary schools to cobble together a more exclusive clique that I could run with during middle school.

I wish that I could have stuck with my elementary school friends and the empathy of my youth, but as the anger of fifth grade evolved into the self-loathing rage of adolescence and I somehow found a way to incinerate every possible connection. From 12 to 20 I was stuck in the fucked up developmental cycle of what I now realize is a contrarian personality. I exchanged empathy for rage, affinity for the outsider with virulent, vocal racism and paired a partially merited pride in my abilities to raging self-hatred.

The gravity of that self-hatred compressed my empathy into an inaccessible region and my rage quickly repelled any potential relationship. I realize that this probably sounds overly dramatic, but a quick glance at my social network bears witness to this reality. If you scan through my friends, followers, or connections that range from tangential to deeply meaningful, you’ll realize that I don’t have a single connection from elementary school, middle school, high school, or my first year of university. I was reminded of this relational disconnect recently when I received unsolicited fundraising materials from the fraternity I joined for nine months of the latter stop. I haven’t spoken to anyone from that house since 1996 and have moved many times since. I suspect the only way they found me was by buying my name from Sallie Mae or some other promiscuous list.

It was in this darkened state, with doors sealed around me and fetal position often beckoning, that I was saved. Salvation, conversion, new birth: I realize those terms are odd an off-putting. They raise antennae for very good reasons since they are often used as a means of compulsion or a mark of exclusion. But those off-putting, awkward words as well as others like redemption or reconciliation, are the only ones I can think of to speak of the fissures in the compacted center that incrementally opened when I made, yet another, decision to follow after Jesus.

I had no idea that this attempt to be a Christian would take and very slowly start to transform my contrarianism into something somewhat and sometimes useful.

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