Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Pastoral Prayer that Wasn't

Today it was my responsibility to provide the Pastoral prayer during worship. I wrote up a prayer and addressed the concerns in our church. I tied in the liturgical theme of the year; Advent 3, or - Joy. But then I left it at home when I went to work. Actually, I saved it to my Dropbox account, but turned off my computer before it synced with the server. Anyway, I muddled through the prayer and it was good. But below is the real deal!

More after the jump...

Friday, December 14, 2012

Newtown, CT

More on the tragedy later, but for now, this:

I've seen lots of "if the teachers were armed then..." comments today. Not true. That's like smoking more to cure lung cancer.

Again, more later in the form of a "Church Wuss" post.

Monday, November 5, 2012

November No Razor: Day 5

I cleaned up my neck for church on Sunday. Here's a pic from this morning, 28 hours after the neck shave...

With Thanksgiving coming early in the month this year, I'll be lucky to have much of any beard in just a few weeks.

Beard ON!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Family Support

While I'm feverishly contending for the best beard of November, (I just started like 12 hours ago), my little family thought it'd be nice to offer some support.

Onward to victory! 

November: No Razor 1

Today was the final shave until Dec. 1st. I'm in a contest with my brother in law and my dad, to see who can grow the best beard. Below are a couple of progressive pictures as I cleaned up.

Pics after the jump...

Monday, October 29, 2012

Beard Contest 2012: Family Folicles

"...the male beard communicates an heroic image of the independent, sturdy, and resourceful pioneer, ready, willing and able to do manly things." - Unknown

20 years ago some friends and I used to play a game called "Who's More Grizzled?". It consisted of a few random and unknowing"contestants", usually some of the more "townsy" folk from my hometown. We'd point out a couple of different people to our friends, then ask the question, "Who's More Grizzled?" Imagine it like a game show where the audience yells out the catch phrase: "WHO'S! MORE! GRIZZLED?!!"

I tell you that story to tell you this.

My brother in law, "Jason" of Two Thumbs Brewing fame, and from yonder Moanstead has formally challenged me to a beard contest. This is excellent news for me, as it gives me an official reason to save loads of money on not buying razors, other than laziness. I've had a goatee & sideburns for well over 10 years, so for me it's just completing the puzzle. My competition however, has has a full on beard for the last 2 years, and on and off for many years before.

Well worn experience verses novice novelty.

Game. On.

With any good contest, there are rules. I mean after all, this isn't 'Nam. The following were submitted and agreed upon: (with appreciation to

  1. Must start the competition with a clean shave, last shave on Oct. 31 anytime. 
    1. Photographic evidence of clean shave must be retained and perhaps shared with other participants
    2. If [Steve (Andy's dad)] would like to join us, he could join without having to shave the mustache. He's had the 'stache for nearly 40 years.
  2. Judging to be held Thanksgiving Day, prior to dinner. 
  3. Acceptable shaving during competition includes the neck and tidying beard edges. 
  4. Judging Criteria: 
    1. Length (25%)
    2. Fullness (25%)
    3. Style and Sophistication (25%)*
    4. General Manliness (25%)*
    5. Judges: The associated ladies (if they remain that way) of the contestants.
  5. Grand Prize: To Be Determined.
* Up to discretion of the judge Judges will award each contestant points from 1-5 in each of the above categories. The contestant with the most total points wins the grand prize.

The challenge? I accept.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Integrity and Civility in News Media

On Wednesday, Sep. 26th, 2012, a 13 year old boy ended his life with the pull of a trigger. He was on campus at Stillwater Junior High School in Stillwater, OK. Many of his peers and some faculty witnessed his suicide. Several news organizations began to connect aspects of the developing story with larger, unrelated themes and events. The victim was dressed in a superhero costume, as part of a theme-week activity with the school. One news agency linked that to the Aurora, CO shooter.

Friday, Sep. 28th, 2012, a man who had been involved in a high speed chase with police, and having fired his gun at the officers, fled his vehicle, pointed his gun at his head and ended his life. Fox News mistakenly aired his suicide on their nation-wide evening broadcast.

Fox News anchor Shepherd Smith somberly apologized for the error, saying that once the man had left his vehicle the news broadcast went to a 5 second delay were something terrible to happen. It did. Twice. The man killed himself and Fox, even with their delay somehow aired the event.

Are we so desensitized to one another, the feeling of community, the connection of humanity and belonging  that we are willing to go to such challenging and disruptive lengths to gain a market edge? Fox News already dominates the cable news ratings. Does America really need to know and watch a high speed chase? There are movies for that.

The indirect tragedy of the Stillwater Junior High story is how quickly reports became hyper inflated, almost intentionally in order to gain clicks, views, re-tweets and shares (read that as "ratings").

The question, "have we forgotten that..." is already answered. Yes. We have forgotten.

We've forgotten that these are human beings, with families and friends and dignity, who deserve respect and peace. We've forgotten how to mourn death, so we try to remove ourselves from it by turning it into sensationalized entertainment.

We've forgotten that some folks struggle with real problems, and real depression, and real pain. Too many people suffer from increasing stress and pressure and guilt and anxiety and confusion. We've forgotten them and their struggles.

And the culture of entertainment-journalism has fed us with out of context sound bites and given us the sweet drink of opinion as fact reporting.

Perhaps Shepherd Smith will pull a Will McAvoy and start a campaign for civility and integrity in reporting. Perhaps he will lead a charge within his industry for a return to analysis of fact and seeking truth. Perhaps "We report. You decide." will actually have real meaning one day.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Sermon 7-29-12

Week 2 of my foray into weekly preaching. Thankfully it was my last for a while. 

We know this story – it’s a great sermon starter for a stewardship message that could practically write itself - especially when interpreted as the people being inspired by the faithfulness of the boy to lay it all on the table and share what he had for the benefit and wellbeing of all.

But this is not that sermon. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Urban farm blinds

Our bedroom windows face the south, the ceiling is vaulted and there's zero attic space above it. So in the summer, it's an oven. There is usually a 5 degree difference from our room and the rest of the house.

So we got some sun blocking curtains for the bottom windows, but there are 2 smaller windows above.

These windows let in a lot of light, which i don't mind- but the accompanying heat is something else. Plus, several times a year the moon shines in RIGHT IN MY FACE!

What to do...

We've been going off this "urban farm" idea for a while with some other decor, so we thought we'd play with that. We had some old fence panels hanging around in the backyard, just loitering and causing a general ruckus. So I figured I'd dispatch them.

Introducing, window fencing!

Behold, a glorious wonder of wood and nails! And sun-blocking power! (not rated for UV-A or UV-B protection)

I think we'll paint something crafty on the inside, like "Keep It Clean!" or "Put Away Your Socks!". I'll probably paint something on the side that faces the street like, "Get Off My Lawn!".

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Sermon 7-22-12

So, as my mother pointed out, in reference to my sisters and I:
"So nobody is updating their blogs.

i'm sad.
I love reading what my brilliant children and good-children are writing.
you all are so smart.
get to it!
I haven't updated in over a month. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up. Buttercup is marry Humperdink in little less then half an hou. ...

I was hired for the last half of July and first half of August as the full-time Minister of Administration at my church. It was a 4-week gig that I'm happily unemployed from. I attended more meetings and took more phone calls in those 4 weeks than I did in the previous 7 months. Reason for this little journey, as I mentioned earlier  the transition minister left the position immediately, so it left an administrative and pastoral care void until the new Interim Minister began in August. 

So I preached on 7/22 and 7/29. check the July 22nd sermon after the jump: 

Friday, July 20, 2012


Stick with my while I unpack a complex post.

If you saw the movie Inception, then you already have an idea of where this is going. In the movie, Leo DiCaprio enters peoples dreams via some kinda wacky voodoo or something. Anyway, once in your dream, he makes your dream self fall asleep so that there's a dream within a dream. This happens a few more times until Leo (Cobb in the film), is deep enough into your subconscious that he can plant an idea in your brain and upon your waking, you think it's your idea.

Inception is therefore, a...  "dream...within a dream" ... try not to think about this guy:

Okay, now that's over with - on to the point. 
      You have a point?
Yes I do. The church I serve is going through a transition. The Sr. Minister of 25 years retired earlier this year, and as part of the interim period, a Transitional Minister was called to serve 6 months, to help prepare the congregation to call an Interim Minister for 12 months before interviewing and calling an Installed Minister.

The Transitional Minister was to work through mid-August. The congregation interviewed and called a Interim Minister, who was set to begin his ministry on Aug 19th. However, 2 days ago I was called by the Board Chair to inform me that the Transitional Minister (the first guy) had terminated his contract early for personal reasons.

This left the congregation with roughly 1 month before the new Interim Minister was to begin.
I thought you had a point?
I'm getting to it, and trust me this build up won't be worth it. Basically, I and the Minister of Visitation of the congregation are splitting Sr. Minister duties for the next month. I'm overseeing administrative, day to day operations of the church, and she is handling all the pastoral care and emergency visitation. In reality, the church has already been through 2 leaves of ministry, the retired minister and the ill-of-health transitional minister. In 1 month there will be another transition of sorts, from the split ministry of Julie and myself to the Interim ministry. Then after that period there will be the transition to the new installed minister, whoever s/he is.

It's a transition within a transition, within a transition, within a transition. It's Inception Church.

My job has become all about trying to keep the wheels from falling off. I'll post my upcoming sermon on Sunday.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Morning Person

My son just woke up and came downstairs this morning. Here's what he was wearing:

Soccer medal, check. John Deere hat, check. That boy is ready for his day!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pentecost Sermon

Below is the text of my Pentecost Sunday sermon. Contextual notes: the church I serve is a Disciples of Christ congregation, and is in ministerial transition, after a 25-year Sr. Pastorate.

Just Breathe

Maybe you’ve seen those little mints wrapped in bible verses. They’re called Testamints or Commandmints. I saw some at a bookstore a couple of weeks ago. Little packages of mints, sugar free gum, and after dinner mints – all with helpful reminders from scripture. The point is obviously to freshen breath – but maybe there’s something more to it than just having a minty fresh mouth.
Pentecost is the 50th day after Passover, and for Christians, marks the recognized “birth” of the church. In the early first century, Pentecost was a festival remembering the gift of the Pentateuch, the first 5 books of the Hebrew bible, also called the Torah. So in many ways, Pentecost Sunday is kind of like a breath mint for the church. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The "Wild Thing" in Me

Today it was announced that Maurice Sendak, author of famous children's book "Where the Wild Things Are" had died.

It is no secret that Sendak explored the darker side of childhood, which in the case of "Wild Things" was a subtle journey into the creative, imaginative, dream-like adventure of a mischievous boy named Max.

And it is Max's imagination that leads him into the wilderness, where he tamed wild things and became the most "wild thing of all." But despite being made king, and hosting a wild rumpus, Max longed to be in a place where he knew he was loved.
Max does what we all should do; take a break and reflect on our priorities. For me this is a Lenten theme, where Jesus of Nazareth went to the wilderness and reflected on his priorities and future experiences.

There's a Max in me that wants to retreat to where the wild things are, and spend some time being the king, and work on taming the wildness by looking it in the eye. But another part of me always longs to be home where I know I am loved and where the food is always hot.
* Images by Maurice Sendak.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Garden 2012 update

Loads and loads of things have been happening 'round here. And by loads I of course mean compost. 4 cubic yards to be exact. That meant we had to build more gardens and find stuff to put in em.
So there's 1 of 2 additional raised beds. We put in potatoes, beans, spinach, garlic, peppers, and strawberries. Everything is up except the berries. Not holding out hope.
Last year we put in 2 grape vines. This year they need something to climb on other than the bunny fence and other plants:
Dad and I built a long row bed against the side fence for pumpkins. We're gonna have to sell em or something!
Bunnies ate our carrots last year. This year it's the potato plants. Had to put up more fence. He thinks he's cute hiding under the slide. I'll just plant some greens over there for him to chow on. I want to keep him around, the kids like to watch him hop. Plus he eats dandelions.

Once we start getting blooms I'll post more pics.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Church Wuss: Part 8

When I started the series "Church Wuss" I was still using MySpace. Yeah.

One or 2 of those posts didn't make the journey to Blogger (may they rest in peace).

So, this is the 8th or so post about church and guns/violence, and even as much negative media attention that these events generate, churches still use all sorts of violent themes, imagery, and language to "teach" about Christianity.

For this installment, we welcome Glad Tidings Assembly of God to the spotlight. Recently, GTAG pastors and adults kidnapped teens at gunpoint to teach about the persecuted church. Students were injured by seemingly overzealous "kidnappers", who used real firearms (with no ammunition) including handguns and assault rifles to round up the teens into a van. Students were covered with pillowcases and their hands were bound behind their backs.

The lead pastor of the church stands by the activities, and said, "It was a youth event to illustrate what others have encountered on a regular basis." The students were not informed about what was going to happen, or that it was a teaching moment.


Hey everyone, seriously... what's going on here? Who are the brain surgeons who thought this was a smart idea?

If this was about helping students have an understanding about what dangers others face because of their faith, I wonder if the follow up conversation included other faith traditions as well. Certainly in our lifetimes we have witnessed this kind of persecution of Muslims, especially after September 11, 2001. I wonder if the topic of Christian-sponsored violence and terrorism was addressed.

What's next for churches? Burning down someone's home so they learn what it's like to experience loss?

Once at a church I served we had a lock-in style event that focused on the "underground church" in Roman controlled first-century Palestine. We made up a secret code, we had an "underground" secret worship meeting, we had fun dressing up in old VBS and Christmas pageant clothes. There were no kidnappings, though we did blindfold students and walk them around the fellowship hall. There was a permission form. There was a schedule that was made available. There were no guns or terrorists or fake blood.

What does a teenager learn about the love of God when coming face to face with an AK-47? What good does it do the church to terrorize their young people into not feeling safe or secure at a regular youth meeting?

Next to giving out a gun at a youth rally, this has got to be one of the most irresponsible youth ministry ideas I've heard.

(Speaking of irresponsible youth ministry ideas: I was 2 weeks into my first ministry position, over 12 years ago, and some of the youth talked me into showing 'Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery' at a back to school gathering. A parent walked in right at the end of the movie when Elizabeth Hurley's character stands up from behind the couch, naked, holding cantaloupes in front of her chest. Much grace and forgiveness was shown to the rookie.)

When will us Youth Ministers learn? 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The one where I start an online social movement Part 2

If you haven't read the first post in this series, stop. Do that, then come back here. 

Last week, the esteemed and fancy mustached Geraldo Rivera made comments concerning Trayvon Martin's murder. Martin's hoodie, Rivera claims, is as guilty as George Zimmerman in the death of the 17 year old high school student.* Because Trayvon was wearing a hoodie he was automatically suspected as being some problem. There's lots to the Martin/Zimmerman case, which I won't get into.

But what Rivera has done, is open the door to the larger conversation about the underlying fears and anxieties we hold about the unknown "other". He's pointing out the truth about fear of strangers. But when that stranger is already a marginalized and suspect person, as with the teen Trayvon, then the responsibility to carefully craft one's words becomes even more critical.

Except, Geraldo Rivera didn't craft his comments well, and they sparked a firestorm of controversy. To say that a hoodie is as at fault in someone's death as the person wielding the handgun is absurd at least, and blatantly irresponsible - especially by journalistic standards.

I mentioned in my earlier post (if you haven't read it, you really need to - good background info), I work with teenagers - all of whom have worn a hoodie at some point in my knowing them. Every single one of the mostly white, middle class students I encounter own multiple hoodies.

So I got to thinking, what if I asked the youth group to wear a hoodie to church. And what if we talked about the importance of using responsible language when describing or talking about others or other ethnic groups than the one(s) we affiliate with? And how does this relate to becoming young Christian leaders? How is the bible shaping us to engage this story on a faithful level? Would the students really wear hoodies to church?

Then a friend on Twitter chimed in - "Hey you should start a facebook event." So birthed the #WearAHoodieToChurch event. I invited a bunch of my facebook friends. They invited their friends, who invited their friends etc...

Today, there are over 300 people who are "attending" to wear a hoodie to church.

But this hasn't really solely been about, and is not a protest over Trayvon Martin's murder. This is an awareness campaign to support the work of reconciliation by our churches.

At last check, #WearAHoodieToChurch involves persons from Catholic, Presbyterian and Quaker traditions, and persons from the United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Unitarian Universalists and the Bahá’í Faith traditions. People from Pennsylvania to Honolulu have accepted the call to stand up for justice and unity from their specific religious contexts.

On Sunday, 3/25 at the congregation where I serve, 23 people wore hoodies, standing in solidarity with victims of violence of many kinds: domestic, sexual, racial & ethnic. In my denomination, one of the main areas of ministry happens through the work of the Reconciliation Ministry. This arm of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) focuses on anti-racism and "the elimination of the primary causes of racism in North America."

So this event is beyond Trayvon Martin - though inspired by his hoodie. #WearAHoodieToChurch is a call to reject the assumptions about others that society puts on us and them. It is an opportunity to engage someone or some group in a meaningful and transformative way - for either party.

From my perspective, I hold to the hope that the God of Love enfolds both victims and perpetrators of violence. Maybe by wearing a hoodie, we'll be reminded once again that the person on the inside is what matters.

* Rivera has since "apologized" for his statements.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The one where I start an online social movement. Part 1

I had heard of the murder. It was a brief news clip on NPR about a Florida teen being killed by a Neighborhood Watch volunteer. It wasn't until late last week that the story began to emerge again for me.

Trayvon Martin was a 17 year old high school kid. I work with high school students every week, and have for 13 years. And even though so much has changed in the last 13 years, one thing has been consistent: teens wear hoodies.

The zipper kind ... the pull-over kind, whatever.

They're comfy.

They're easy to haul around.

They have big pockets.

Kyle was in the youth group at a church I served. He came to Sunday school and worship service. He sat with me almost every week. He played drums and we would jam with other boys in the youth group. He was baptized in that congregation the Sunday after Easter. I cried.

He was a skinny, short kid - had asthma. Kyle liked to skateboard, and was good at it. He didn't live too far from the church, and would often roll over to skate in the parking lot. I even bought him some skate wax to apply to the curb to make it easier to grind.  

Yeah, I was the cool youth pastor.

We talked about the differences in Airwalks and Vans. If Element gear was really worth the price. I shared one of my hoodies with him - he wore it home from the hospital after a 2 week stay, the result of a severe asthma attack. That hoodie became part of our relationship. It's a blue Jedidiah Boarding Company hoodie. I bought it one year at a youth workers conference. It's HUGE.

Kyle's dad skipped out on the family years before. His older brother was a first-class jerk. Kyle latched on to the security, friendship and hospitality of the youth group.

I was floored when one day Kyle came up to my office in tears. It would be one of the last times I would see him. Earlier I watched him practice kick-flips in the parking lot. I made sure the soda machine had Mtn. Dew in it. I didn't hear him come in my office - he spun his wheel and got my attention.

Someone had just told him he didn't belong at the church - that he looked suspicious - that if he didn't "get off our property" the police would be called. Kyle looked at me with giant questions. Huge accusations about the church and my role in it.

It was strange how after I took him home later that afternoon, he tried to "clean up". He found a button up white shirt and a clip on tie. He wore it to church. He wore it to Sunday school. People thought he was a visitor. I heard comments about "that nice boy".

Kyle stopped coming to church. He stopped taking my calls. He stopped playing in a band with the other church boys. He was hurt, deeply. We were hurt.

Kyle was never a problem. He was generous, approachable, comical, warm and compassionate. It wasn't his behavior alone that some found objectionable. I later learned that the skateboarding was "damaging the parking lot." No, it really was that damned hoodie.

Trayvon Martin was killed because someone else was unjustly afraid of him. But that wasn't Trayvon's problem. He had no control, as a person of his immediate culture, over what another person thought, or believed about him. That is common for all of us - we do not, and cannot control how other people choose to see us.

And even though I speak from a position of privilege, I think I can say (a privilege in itself) that this is common for most groups.

It's true for women. It's true for Hispanics. It's true for athletes.

Someone, somewhere is going to base their opinion of another person or group on what they think they know to be true. And those assumptions are made from deciphering visual appearances. If someone carries a briefcase, society (correctly or not) suggests that they are in business. If someone wears overalls, society (again, correctly or not) suggests to us that they are in agriculture.

If someone wears a baggy shirt with big pockets and a hood over their head, society - rightly or wrongly - often suggests that the person is 1) cold, 2) a college student, 3) a middle class soccer mom, 4) a high school athlete, 5) a girl scout, 6) an insurance agent taking advantage of "casual Friday", 7) a Division 1 Big 12 football coach, 8) a presidential candidate on the golf course in February, 9) a cold-blooded, crack-infused, homicidal maniac set out to destroy the very fabric of our great nation.

Trayvon Martin was killed because someone was unjustly afraid of him.

Click here for Part 2 of this series.

Note: I want to reflect on this story theologically, considering how the story of Jesus' crucifixion can also speak to the fear of the unknown. Maybe something on that later.

Friday, March 23, 2012


The following is a letter I sent to the youth and parents of the church I serve. It is my hope that through the education of our young people, that one day the undercurrents of racism in our culture will be once and for all replaced with respect for one's neighbor. 

Friends, maybe you have heard of the tragic murder of a teenager in Florida last month. He was walking to a friends house when he was confronted by a man who was suspicious of his activity. The 2 struggled and Trayvon was shot in the chest and killed. So far, no charges have been filed against the attacker, though he says the murder was in "self defense".

To read more about the incident, National Public Radio has a thoughtful article here:

Today, a national television personality suggested that because Trayvon was wearing a hoodie (sweatshirt with a hood), he looked suspicious and possibly invited the attack. This suggestion is pure stereotyping at its worst. It is nonsense.

The General Minister and President of our denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Reverend Sharon Watkins has a blog post about Trayvon and the racism involved in his murder. She also comments on the work the denomination is doing in reconciliation.

As a way of showing support for this work of reconciliation and the call to wholeness the church proclaims, I am asking our youth to wear hoodies on Sunday morning to church, and to youth group that night. We'll talk about a Christian response to violence and what it means to be a young person proclaiming God's peace in a violent world.

This Sunday, support peace - support reconciliation - share your hope for a safe future by wearing a hoodie to church.

Peace be with you,
Andy Beck

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Theology Thursday: Creating Christian Consumers

I'm a Gen-Xer, and was a teen in the early 1990's. My generation has hardly known a world without cable TV, home video game and movie systems, big box stores and shopping malls. For most of our lives, we have been swimming in an ocean of materialism - and living in a culture that says "too much is never enough". We've come to expect to be catered to at our every desire. We grew up hearing slogans like "Have it Your Way" and "Once You Pop You Can't Stop".

Every aspect of our lives has been qualified into consumable partitions. The economics of living in our culture requires us to spend time relaxing even as we earn our paychecks.

So how does this relate to the church?

Recently I've heard the phrase "the church is a business" and it has stuck with me in a not so pleasant way. I've been wrestling with this notion and trying to justify it by thinking of ways the church is "business-like". We propose budgets and share expense to income reports. We have established rules and policies and have an organizational structure. We have departments and chairpersons and meetings (God do we have meetings). So in these ways, yes, church - I suppose - is like a business.

And the model seems fairly accurate on the surface: the more people who come to the church, the more spiritually healthy the church and it's attendees must be - the better the ministry must be - the closer to God the pastor must be - etc. The more meetings we have about doing things gives us the sense of actually getting our product ministry out there.

The language we use to describe our churches is straight out of a Marketing 101 textbook. We want to advertise our services to the community so we can grow our presence in the marketplace area.

But is this what being in the kindred community of God is about? That we are consumers of what the church is "selling"? If so, that turns each person not into a child of god but a number. And if the church is a business, then the bigger the number the better.

But is this what Jesus talks about in John 10:10? Is this how we have life and have it to the fullest? By being consumers rather than participants, shoppers rather than makers, numbers rather than people? Is this what clergy like me have been creating, supporting, sustaining and promoting for decades?

Having meetings about ministry is not ministry. Fund raising for glorious structures leads to navel gazing not service. The "if you build it, they will come" approach might work for mystic baseball fields, but that was one of a kind. It's said that there are "three churches on every corner" where I live. If you build it here, so what. There's one just like it just down the street.

In an economy that is justified and sustained by consumerism, the church has adopted a similar approach. "Come here and consume what we offer so that we can count you among us". The relationship is broken. There's no intimacy. They come because they feel like they need to consume religion. We offer it because we want to count heads.

It's hard to think that perhaps the most successful ministry had only a few dozen people in it, one of whom killed himself after turning over the leader to be murdered. Perhaps that's the point. That ministry ought not to be about counting heads or even "selling" the right style of church. It ought to be about dying to ourselves day in and day out for the Love of God and God's people.

I mentioned to someone earlier this year, that if the church is a business, then I want my money back. I would like to think that Jesus would share my sentiment.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

It's Garden Time

They say in Oklahoma, don't plant until after St Patricks Day. Today is the 18th.

We (the royal we) built a 3rd raised bed, taters only.

Still to go: beans (green and black), peas, spinach, garlic, tomatoes, sunflowers and a raspberry bush.

Brother-in-law Mike helped haul a heaping hunk of horse manure compost:

Thus begins the garden-palooza blog posts of 2012.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ship Happens (complaint)

In the past 3 weeks I have ordered 3 items via the Internet. Some repair parts for our garage door opener and our lawnmower - and some postcards for work. With each order, the shipping was somehow messed up.

Let me explain. No, there is no time. Let me sum up:

1) mower parts - order never made it to shipping
2) garage door parts - shipped to wrong address
3) postcards - UPS returned parcel to post office, who returned it to company I ordered from.

While both repair jobs have been finally completed, I just found out about the postcards today. UPS attempted to deliver them to our office but no one was there to receive them.So UPS left a notice for us and took it to the post office where the parcel sat for a week. I didn't ever see the UPS notice, and my secretary says she didn't either. But UPS says they left a note.

So, either the post office didn't tell us it was there waiting, or my secretary ignored the card the post office puts in our PO Box when these things happen and never got the box. The post office returned the parcel to the sender, the company I ordered them from - who is now rush printing and delivering a new batch TO MY HOUSE on Monday.

Final thoughts:
1) No wonder the Post Office is in such a financial mess
2) Brown can't do much for me, it turns out.
3) I need a secretary who can do more than answer the phone, read novels and play Solitaire. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

'Bytes Article 3-12-12

The following is a newsletter article I wrote for the church I serve. We are a church currently in transition, and are experiencing a power vacuum of sorts. Here I attempt to call it out and to remind myself and others of the focus of Lent.

In the days that lead us into Holy Week, the anxiety of what that time brings can be powerful. We're reminded that the season of Lent is inward-looking for a reason. If we take the season seriously, Lent forces us to ask questions of ourselves concerning what fears we have and the accompanying anxieties that the unknown brings. Lent is about humility - when we put on sack cloth and sit in ashes. It is not a time for boasting, pride, arrogance or greed. Lent reminds us that we are merely human, and that it's good to be so.

It's been just over three weeks since Les' retirement. There has been lots and lots of activity on Sundays the past two weeks - with committee and leadership meetings, study groups and fellowship opportunities. But let us not get lost in the wilderness of church busy-ness and miss the work of Lent. Let us not forget in these weeks leading up to Easter, how to be humble, how to sit in ashes, how to be reminded of our anxiety and grief, and how that makes us human. But mostly, let us be reminded during this season of Lent, that we travel this road together. We share the weight of unease with our neighbor and friend, and remain hopeful in the God of promise who guided Jesus out of the wilderness, who cared for the Israelites in the desert, who comforts us in our anxiety. If only we allow the opportunity.

Be EXCELLENT to each other, as God has been to us. <>< Andy

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Theology Thursday: Hebrew Bible after the Shoah

Here's a post I thought I had published - apparently not so. It's a few weeks old.


Today I'm reflecting on some seminary class discussion. I am taking a Biblical Theology course on violence and suffering in the Bible, and we are beginning to build a frame for guiding our conversations in the future.

In order to do this we are discussing the nature (characteristics) of God and what implications those assumptions have on our theology, both as group and as individual.

This is important because as we all reflect on our understanding of God, we do so through the lens of our experiences. To begin with, I understand God through my lens of being Caucasian, male, married, American, Gen X, heterosexual, etc. So my theology is informed by the experiences I've had, which are shaped by all that I just listed.

This is all to say that we began as a class diving into an understanding of God through the lens of Jewish theological scholarship, particularly writings after the Shoah (holocaust). We began examining the nature of God as described by the Hebrew Bible (old testament).

The question of God's fidelity came up - asking "is God faithful?" Certainly a good question to be asked, especially by Jewish communities. Why do we have faith in God? What makes us think that God has to be faithful, trustworthy or committed?

When we claim to be God's people, we also assume a certain persona of entitlement or expectation; in that God will provide. But what about when God doesn't?

In the context of the holocaust - in many ways, God the Deliverer of the slaves in Egypt was nowhere to be found. How do we understand God when quite literally, all hell breaks loose?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Missing the Point

Today the US Navy announced that a ship was to be named in honor of former Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords. The Arizona Representative was wounded in a shooting over a year ago.

In the weeks that followed the attack, political leaders from all sides called for an end to political rhetoric that had become increasingly rancorous and violent.

As my friend Trent pointed out on Twitter, naming a warship after someone who was violently attacked and shot is kind of, ahem, off target.

What honor does this bring Mrs. Giffords? America would be a better place if she were to decline the honor, and explain why.

How about the Veteran's Administration naming a neurology center after the Congresswoman instead?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Theology Thursday: Midwinter Sermon

Yes, I know it's not Thursday. But since I'm in seminary classes all day on Thursday, I'm now going to post "Theology Thursday" articles whenever I want. So here ya go. 

The following is a sermon I gave at a recent Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in OK youth weekend retreat. The theme of the weekend was "IMPACT" and focused on how the lives we lead make impressions on others. The weekend also served as a work-project retreat, as youth completed improvement projects throughout the campground and facilities in preparation for Summer Ministry season. 


This is a quote from Jewish Teacher Abraham Joshua Heschel:
 “…when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion, its message becomes meaningless.”
 Let me begin by saying that if Christianity has become for you just a system of rules that you’re supposed to live by – I’m sorry. Somebody has been teaching you wrong. Or maybe someone has had a larger impact on your life than maybe they should. Or maybe their message is slick and hip and trendy and gets 20 million hits on YouTube and it’s soo attractive that it must be true.

Respecting Newt's Religion(s)

Recently, GOP Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich complained that he was tired of being asked to respect everyone else's religion. In his statement, he uses "religions" and "religion".

Here's the clip:

Gingrich, clearly talking to a conservative audience is apparently suggesting that the religion of the politically conservative movement in America is Catholic. See, Gingrich is catholic, or at least converted to catholicism after marrying his third wife Callista. Since Gingrich is catholic, and he used the phrase "our religion" - that makes me think he believes the conservative base is also catholic because he's associating his supporters with himself.

Or maybe it's Southern Baptist. While married to his second wife (and presumably during his 6-year affair) he was a God-fearing, church-going Southern Baptist. It's Newt's religious Flavor-of-the-Month club.

Even though his vision for things like space technology is broad (remember he wants to reach the heavens and build a lunar colony by 2020), his understanding as a historian that the USA is a multicultural, multi-religious, ethnically diverse melting pot seems selfishly narrow.

He wants a government that respects "our religion(s)." To Newt, that is clearly conservative Christianity.

I'm just making assumptions here, but there surely are politically conservative folks who practice Islam, various forms of Judaism, and Buddhism. Surely there are conservative republicans who are Rastafarian's, Pastafarians, Universalist's, Mormons, Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Christian. And I know for certain that there are politically conservative folks who practice the many, MANY forms of Protestant Christianity.

I don't think this has anything to do with Newt's faith or his religious background. I think this is another page in the republican's false claim that there is a "war on Christianity". Unfortunately, this message sells to evangelical Christians - but it's false. It's down right false to claim that the federal government is waging war against Christianity. Anyone claiming that the President, or liberals or whoever is taking our country away from its religious roots (presumably Christianity) doesn't know, or is ignoring their US history lessons.

The first European immigrants to the Americas were escaping religious persecution - why would successive generations develop a government that puts one religion in charge? Some of them may have been Christian, but they certainly were not out to establish a theocracy.

It might be good politics for Newt. But it's bad, bad religion.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Theology Thursday: Hating Religion?

Recently, YouTube gave us Jefferson Bethke- a young, passionate and skilled spoken word poet. He posted a video entitled "Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus". I won't link to it, but you can find it easily enough if you want to watch it. Surely you've already seen it.

Bethke raises some very important concerns about religion that I think are worth exploring. For starters however it must be stated that Bethke, in his description of the video mentions that he is talking about what he calls false religion. I assume based on his poem that he means practicing a faith for the wrong reasons.

I do not think that Bethke is condemning religion as a whole, because he certainly seems to be a practitioner of Christianity - but I do think he comes from a religious background that teaches an individual relationship with God through Jesus as the primary salvific act, and reduces the interpersonal experience to corporate worship alone.

But is that the gospel?

I say not completely. The gospel I read calls me into community with others, for mutual forbearance and care. To reduce the whole of the New Testament to an individualistic relationship between me and my own personal Jesus,* based on supplementary atonement theology is to ignore the ministry of Jesus who sought justice for the outcast, healing for the diseased and inclusion for the alien.

Seeing Christianity as an equation [ Me + Jesus = God ] is selfish.

Bethke, you speak to an audience who listens to you, nearly hanging on every rythymic, rhyming word. Be not only responsible to those hearers, but for the Love of God, be responsible to the story of the faith you claim.

* I won't link to Bethke's video, but I will to a Depeche Mode song.

Family Matters To Newt

After CNN's John King opened the South Carolina GOP Presidential Debate with a question regarding Newt Gingrich's alleged "open marriage" request to his second wife, the candidate blasted back with a show-stopping response.
"To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question in a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine,"
Gingrich went on to suggest that his campaign had several of the Speaker's closest friends at the time ready to testify that the allegations were false, and that ABC News was not interested in interviewing these persons. His reason why ABC News wasn't interested? Because they wanted any chance to attack a republican.
"The story is false. Every personal friend I have who knew us in that period said the story was false. We offered several of them to ABC to prove it was false. They weren't interested because they would like to attack any Republican."
CNN apparently discussed it with ABC News, which informed John King that the only persons provided to ABC News on the matter were Gingrich's own two daughters from his first marriage. Pressed on the issue by CNN's reporters, the Gingrich campaign finally relented and said that the candidate was wrong in his assertions.

To clarify: Newt allegedly requested from his second wife an "open marriage", or he'd divorce her and marry the woman he'd been having an affair with. The affair is fact, the open marriage request is what is debatable. And to comment on Newt's outstanding character during this time are not his friends, but his two daughters. From his first wife. Who he divorced because he was having an affair.With the lady he requested an open marriage from.

Not surprisingly, Jon Stewart had something to say about this:

Always the victim, never the perp. Get ready folks, he is a serious contender for the presidential nomination from the Family Values Republican Political Nutbar Party.

Theology Thursday

I watched a NOVA episode yesterday about an Alaskan island. Living on it were 4x the brown bears found in Yellowstone, yet at a fraction of the size. The ecosystem remained balanced through life, death and rebirth. The salmon from the salt water ocean return to the freshwater streams summer after summer. They return to complete their lives, to spawn among the rocks and roots, and the trunks of fallen trees- ultimately to die. They come to be food for the bears, who carry the fish into the woods to eat. The remains become a nitrogen rich supplement for the trees. And the trees provide thick habitat for the wildlife, in their living and in their dying.

Ought not the church recognize this pattern, embrace it and anticipate the life, death and rebirth of ministries in a celebratory way - bound not by tradition or fear - but emboldened by the grace and mystery of God?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Yard 2.0

It was a sunny and mild mid-January Saturday, so what the heck- lets build a compost bin!

Long ago there was a half-fence dividing the yard. We took it out and kept the lumber.
Mysterious shadow-man added for dramatic effect.

And while we're at it, let's remove the rest of the old fort too!
The tops of the sawn off posts can barely be seen. Now there's room for 2 more garden beds- later this winter...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Theology Thursday: Tending the Flock

I mentioned before that the church I serve is soon to be facing some tough challenges, mostly in the face of grieving the retirement of, and replacing the Sr. Pastor of over 25 years.

With the understanding that there will be heavy hearts from the congregation, and much congregational soul-searching during the interim, I posted some excerpts from an Ethics Daily article on the church Facebook page: 

Spiritual discernment begins with disorientation. Something happens to knock us off our feet.

Some event or series of events conspires to turn our world upside down. It may be an unpleasant experience such as a death, a beloved pastor's departure or some crisis.

Whatever it is, our life and world is shaken, and we experience high anxiety. Throughout Scripture, disorientation is the portal God uses to break into ordinary lives and do extraordinary things. (See Joseph, Moses, Esther, Mary, Paul, Peter, etc.)

God's people are constantly finding themselves thrown off balance and unable to manage things using old frames of reference.

The next phase of spiritual discernment is a time of reorientation. On the heels of our crisis, we look around for something or someone to hold on to that will help us make sense of our shaken world.

We find that the promises made by culture, leaders, politics, money, possessions and an array of false gods are empty. We turn once again to the One who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

All of our self-made structures, programs and hollow leadership models collapse under the weight of the issue before us.

In their place we rediscover our reason for being as a congregation. Our pride gives way to brokenness and humility as we reconnect to our mission and purpose.

We lean into our future with a willingness to lay aside those things that have distracted us from our true calling.
Finally, a spiritual discernment process leads us to a new orientation to life and ministry.

We reorder and re-prioritize our life as God's people so that we are on his mission, not ours.

We find a depth of meaning and fulfillment that has been missing. We sense passion and engagement rather than lethargy and apathy.

Because we have taken seriously the voice and movement of the Spirit, we no longer rely on others to prescribe our future, but we create that future as collaborators with God in an ongoing process of regeneration and renewal.

Our time spent in re-visioning our future has produced a new spirit of openness to God's leadership. We begin the hard work of aligning every part of our life with our new vision.

My work now begins, along with that of the other pastoral staff, elders and church leaders, to both embrace and help others to embrace the difficulty of re-visioning the needs of the church. It is important to recognize that this is not a moment for strategic planning, or for the re-evaluation of ministries offered. Rather, this time of transition should be used to reaffirm the real strengths offered by the congregation, and to also affirm the challenges we face.

As is true in personal lives, the members of the congregation must be honest with themselves if they are going to be a sustained and healthy congregation. I hope to be the kind of leader that is honest with church members about both the joys of ministry and the difficulties. I hope that growing edges are clearly and openly identified - this will make room for increased involvement. I hope that conversations about past and future clergy can be open and frank. I hope that as a congregation we don't look to other churches for inspiration, or to companies for a business model.

Certainly the congregation I serve (nor any congregation) is not either the church down the street, or a business to be managed, purchased and sold. Rather, I pray that as we engage this season, the inspiring light of the Creative Mind of the universe will guide us into, and out of a refining fire.

How do we find God in the midst of such turmoil and disorientation? By opening our eyes to the possibility that God of our ancestors is still spinning and weaving and planting and nurturing the opportunities that make life meaningful, and our relationships powerful. We must recognize that God is not concerned with doing the hard work of discernment for us, but rather is overjoyed to be walking beside us on that often dark journey - sometimes holding the flashlight, sometimes turning it off and saying "just feel your way, I am with you."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Snow-maggeddon 2012

It started snowing a little while ago. Needless to say, we are a little excited to see some white stuff.
Buuuut it's not going to last long. We're in the red circle & it's moving eastward. *sigh*

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Monday, January 9, 2012

In the transition

I serve a church that is average.

Average attendance (175-225). Average community (blue collar, military, community college town). Nice numbers of all age groups. Quality people - warm and inviting.It is stable. It is suburban. There is a history of keeping pastors in long tenures. There is sobriety and level-headedness  in the lay-leadership. It is egalitarian in leadership, yet surprisingly lacking in ethnic diversity.

Of the pastoral leadership I'm the newest - and I've been there 7 years. The Sr. Minister has been there 25 years. But that comes to an end on February 19th, 2012. Just 40+ days from now.

I was privileged to preach on the Sunday that the Letter of Retirement was read during a board meeting. I was aware of what was going to happen, and had the opportunity to speak to the congregation a message that they didn't yet know they needed to hear.

It was the first Sunday after Epiphany, and we marked the time by examining the travels of the characters in Matthew's second chapter. Considering the extensive journey the congregation was about to be forced to take, I prepared what I hoped was a thoughtful piece that spoke to the journeys of transition.

Here are some excerpts:

     To borrow from Luke, Mary and Joseph have just traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be counted in the Roman census. The shepherds, at the direction of the angels have come in from their flocks in the fields to give witness to the scene. The angel and heavenly hosts have come down and around to sing Hallelujah – and the Maji, who have come from the east, have traveled to worship and give gift to the child who has been born king of the Jews. But in time, they all must return, travel back to where they came. To the fields, to the heavens, to the distant land. They must all make the journey back to their normal, regular existence.
And this is where we find ourselves now.

      We’ve spent the last 6 weeks anticipating, waiting for, wondering about the Christ child, looking for him, preparing for him, singing about him, decorating for him, giving for him. We’ve sent greeting cards and baked delicious treats and made video calls and phone calls to friends and relatives far away. We’ve celebrated his advent and hosted the party and sung the carols and attended the Christmas programs and opened the presents and eaten the dinner. And now, as the tree comes down, we move back, slowly - into the regular pace of life. These events happen to us. We learn about them, we prepare for them, we travel into them, and we journey with newness of faith beyond them.
And this, after discussing King Herod's plan to destroy the infant Jesus, (the one who the Magi proclaimed as the "King of the Jews"), and emphasizing that all too often something interrupts our plans and we must change course:

     But Herod’s plan doesn’t work – The Magi hit the road without telling him where to find the newborn king. They leave town and return to their homeland by another way. A different way. And Joseph, having been awakened by a dream and warned of Herod’s plan, gathered his family and escaped to Egypt.

     We can’t complete the Christmas story yet, their journey is still continuing. The Magi, having had an encounter with the holy, now travel a different route. Walk a new road. They journey together into their mysterious future. Joseph and Mary and Jesus, having encountered the holy flee their homeland to escape persecution only to go into a land that once held captive their own people. They too journey into their mysterious future. And it’s not even until after Herod’s death that they return, but not to Bethlehem, but Nazareth – by a different route. They walk a new road.
     That’s what we’re doing today on this Epiphany. We are recognizing and revealing the holy in our lives – allowing it to get deep within and change us at our core – so that we may walk on a new path in this new year, together in faith as friends, together guided by holy light as family, together in step with each other as church.
My prayer is that in the coming 18 months, the church I love to serve will walk a different path, not back to where it came, but one boldly into the mysterious future.