Monthly Archives: December 2005

Chronicles of Narnia

Pam and I finally saw “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” last Saturday. I was very impressed. I actually felt that the religious symbolism came through better in the movie than it did in the book (though, as Anthony Lane described it in a review in The New Yorker, the religious symbolism is as obvious as a rhino in a phonebooth). They kept the violence a little off-camera, too, which was nice.

We’ve been under the weather, and are well behind in our holiday movie watching. I’m battling a cold right now, though I’m at work as I write this. Don’t know how long I’ll last. I couldn’t get to sleep last night, thanks to this malady, so I went out on the couch in the living room and turned on the TV (until 3 am!). Ended up watching much of the Jessica Lange-Jeff Bridges version of “King Kong.” I saw it in the theater when it came out, which seems like it was while I was still in college. I didn’t remember how much they played up Jessica Lange’s sexuality (showing her in skimpy outfits as much as possible), and making it seem like Kong was leering at her with lust in his eyes. Watching it last night, it seemed very silly. Pam and I still need to watch the new version.

And we need to see “Munich,” “Memoirs of a Geisha” (great book, but it woudn’t appeal to everyone), and “Syriana.” “Rent” is already gone, and “Aeon Flux” is probably soon to depart. We’ll probably have to catch them (along with the Edward R Murrow flick) on NetFlix. Think we’ll skip “Brokeback Mountain.” Yeah, definitely skip that one.

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Christmas Eve 2005 on the Rich Side of Town

Last night we attended (with some of Pam’s family) the Christmas Eve service at The Chapel, a megachurch located a couple miles down the road from our house. We live on the “rich” side of town, and The Chapel, from everything I’ve heard, is for the rich. It’s an independent church, conservative evangelical, with a vocally Republican pastor. That sounds negative, the way I put it. Actually, the pastor is a very good guy, and I hear tidbits of good things the church has done beyond itself, particularly in inner-city type things. For instance, I understand they’ve invested quite a bit in starting a new, multi-cultural church on the “bad” side of Fort Wayne. Since I attend an urban church (after having attended for nine years a church akin to The Chapel), I think that’s great.

The pastor once pastored in Fort Wayne, but moved elsewhere. Then he was recruited, probably by some rich people, to come back and start a church on the rich side of town. You couldn’t recruit of guy of that calibre to come start a church in my church’s neighborhood. Such is reality. But if The Chapel didn’t exist, then this new church in south Fort Wayne probably wouldn’t exist, either.

Nevertheless, something in me wants to dislike The Chapel. Maybe it goes back to the first time I was on the property, not all that long after the new sanctuary was built. They were hosting a monthly Bible quiz meet, and my brother was coaching a team (from Ohio) that was competing. So that Sunday afternoon, I stopped in.

When I walked into the foyer, just outside the doors to the new sanctuary, I just about gasped at the opulence. Or at least, that’s how it came across to me, coming from a church struggling on meager resources to minister to a very poor neighborhood. I felt like I was going to the opera. Seriously. If I would ever go to an opera, that is, which I wouldn’t. But with the grand piano sitting in the foyer and all the other accessories of fineness, it seemed to me like what an opera house would be like.

So last night, I prepared myself to go to the opera. I figured I would be turned off once again.

Now, you’re expecting me to reverse directions, say that the Christmas Eve service was a wonderful experience which shattered all of my previous negative impressions. Stop about half-way in between. The service was nice, nothing fancy. The place was packed, and we had to sit on chairs leading into the sanctuary, and frankly, I didn’t see much of the service. A truly lousy vantage point. But they started right on time and ended in exactly 45 minutes, a period which included some wonderful music, a children’s time with the pastor, a superb message to the “adults” from the pastor, and communion. Very efficient. I came away neither hot nor cold, just nicely warm.

Something deep within me really really really wants to dislike churches like The Chapel. Churches for the rich, and which spend hordes of money on themselves, particularly on their appearance. But The Chapel isn’t always easy to dislike, unless you’re a purely knee-jerk type of person. I guess I could criticize the pastor for his crack about tattoos, something which would have turned off the teens who attend our church, but which was probably okay for lilly white Republican territory. But that was a petty thing, and I need to contort myself to take his actual words wrong.

A church like The Chapel offers wonderful programs for all ages. It would be a good place to raise children. But I serve in a church located on a corner in a depressed neighborhood, on a street that has two convicted rapists and three convicted child molesters, and in a neighborhood inhabited by really messed up families. Our needs are great, and our resources are few. So forgive me if I have a hard time going to the opera.

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Wondering About People

Tonight I was shopping at Kohl’s, finishing up what I’m getting Pam for Christmas. As I got into a checkout line, I recognized the fellow at the front, who was just finishing checking out. He was a United Brethren minister in another town. I saw him, but he didn’t see me, and we didn’t speak.

Do you ever wonder about people you encounter? You know–what’s their line of work? were they athletic in their younger days? did they have a happy childhood? did they serve in the military? are they rich or poor or struggling? I do, more and more. Particularly of older people. I wonder what they were like in their prime. And I wonder if, when I’m “old,” if people will have any curiosity about or interest in the life I lived.

Anyway, this minister seemed entirely ordinary. You wouldn’t know he was a minister. The checkout girl, and the people in line behind him, had no idea that he was a leader, that he had been through the ringer as a pastor, that he had experienced thrilling days but also some of the very toughest of days. That he counseled youngsters getting married, and comforted people who were grieving, and earned the appreciation and gratitude of these people. All of this packed into one ordinary guy buying clothes.

A multitude of stories lurk just beneath the surface of everyone we meet. Everyone, in one way or another, has led an interesting life–some more exotic or successful than others, but all interesting in their own way. And it’s nice when someone takes an actual interest in them.

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Reinventing My Denomination

Keith Drury, over at the Wesleyan Church, spoke on his blog about the “reinventing” going on in my own denomination. His post was titled “Re-inventing the Denomination,” and he got it nearly all right. He expressed some admiration that such a radical change for decentralizing the denomination came not from the grassroots, but from the denominational leadership.

I hadn’t really thought about that. That’s why it’s always interesting getting an outsider’s perspective.

A year ago–Dec 16, to be exact–I wrote about “The Denomination of ‘No,'” referring to the defeat of the referendum to join our denomination with the Missionary Church. That one capped a whole year’s worth of sporadic writing on Whatever about the issue. Just a few days before that, I had written “Let the Purging Begin.” None of that dire purging has happened. In fact, after killing the idea of joining the Missionary Church, the church put back into leadership primarily people who had favored joining the MCs. Go figure.

Many of us still feel that joining the MCs offered the best future for our churches. But you don’t always get what you want, and you deal with it. We’re dealing with it as a denomination. The fact that we explored something as radical as giving ourselves up created an openness to change, which we’re now capitalizing upon. Most of our annual conferences (districts) are disbanding in favor of a cluster system, and we’re seeing practically no reisistance. That astounds me. Clusters are forming, and while some of them will no doubt be dysfunctional, I’m sensing some real excitement among a number of ministers about this approach.

Anyway, Keith Drury’s observations were interesting. But even more interesting were the comments people made concerning his post. It sounded like a bunch of United Brethren people talking. They were raising all the same issues we raised among ourselves. Maybe we should consider joining the Wesleyan Church.

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Cell Phone Urgency

I went to Applebees for lunch. Got their Oriental Chicken Salad. Sitting in the next booth were a young couple, he in a business suit, she in bluejeans. My expert analysis: husband and wife, he was free for lunch, they got together. Then he got a phone call on his cell. I noticed, because he was talking louder than normal. Everyone talks a little bit louder than normal on a cell phone. It’s annoying, sticks out like a rhino in a phone booth.

He talked for probably 15 minutes, stuff about mortgages mostly. Meanwhile, the poor gal (I kept glancing her way) sat there bored, looking into the air, probably wondering why she gave up part of her day to be with her husband, when he let a phone call push her aside. I felt sorry for her. And I wondered about the ways I let work or personal projects or websurfing or blog-writing push aside time with my own wife.

Not to mention the fact that I’ll allow just about anything, no matter how trivial, derail time with God.

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Barbara’s Heaven Can Wait

As my denomination’s Communications Director, I field calls from organizations wanting to promote themselves to our member congregations. Call me Gatekeeper. A couple of weeks ago, I received a call from ABC’s publicity department telling me about an upcoming Barbara Walters special called “Heaven.” I was told that Babs had interviewed Ted Haggard, and that our member churches would probably be very interested in the special. I told the lady to send me info by email or regular mail, and I would decide what to do with it. Though mentally, I had already deep-sixed it. They made it sound like the whole program would give an evangelical view of heaven, thus the mention of Ted Haggard, but I knew that wouldn’t be the case. Been around the block enough. And my master’s in Public Relations counts for something.

Yesterday, I finally received an email about the program. The show is airing next Tuesday. My suspicions were right. The email doesn’t even mention Ted Haggard. The piece is titled: “Heaven: Where it It? How do we get there? The answers may surprise you.”

The part “The answers may surprise you” just slays me. Yes, certainly, I’m totally excited about hearing Barbara Walters, theologian extraordinaire, reveal to the world the mysteries of heaven. I’ve heard low-lifes of the calibre of Billy Graham talk about heaven, but now, finally, I’m gonna be treated to real answers that may surprise me.

The piece continues, “Is heaven simply a myth dreamed up to give lives meaning, or is it a real place? Anchored by Barbara Walters, ‘Heaven. Where Is It? How Do We Get There?’ explores the meaning of heaven with religious leaders of the major faiths, scientists, people who say they believe in heaven because they’ve been there, celebrities who are vocal about their beliefs, and even with terrorists.”

Oh joy–celebrities get to tell me about heaven. Celebrities always display superior knowledge. And terrorists. Finally, some insight into the whole 72 virgins thing. I’m sure we’ll hear some New Age gurus telling us that heaven is all around us, and scientists who will say, “There’s nothing beyond. This is it.”

Sorry, Barbara, I’m really not interested in your theological revelations. But it’s nice that you included Ted Haggard as a token evangelical. You’re so balanced.

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Bummer Days

Pam and I are not well.

I’ve had vertigo issues for about a month. For several years, in fact, on a recurring basis, but this time it’s come and stuck. Driving me nuts. One day at work, I went into the bathroom in our warehouse area, locked the door, laid down on the tile floor, and tried to sleep it off. A coworker found me. I relocated to my office, where I closed the door and curled up on the floor with my jacket (a pillow! how wonderful!).

So I set up a doctor’s appointment, and that came on Thursday morning. The doctor thinks I have Miniere’s disease, an ear disorder that seems to defy treatment. Just have to live with it.

Meanwhile, Pam headed off to Redimed with her dad. She’s been off work all week. Had what seemed to be back problems, then on Monday became very very warm, just burning up with fever. That broke the next day, but she’s still felt lousy. She threw up all Wednesday night, so it seemed wise to try Redimed in search of a solution.

Well, she’s got a bladder and kidney infection, bad one, and if she hadn’t gone to the doctor (and gotten shots and medication), I’d probably be visiting her in the hospital right now.

What a pair. I’m actually doing okay right now (this thing hasn’t hit REAL hard for a couple weeks, at least not like that aforementioned day at work), but it’s vexing nonetheless. Pam should be okay by Monday, the doctor says. Meanwhile, I’ve got a balance test scheduled, and have to cut down on salt and caffeine. No more morning trips to Starbucks, unless I can learn to like decaf. Which I’ll probably need to do.

What a sorry pair we are.

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Fresh Looks at Familiar Bible Stories

A couple weeks ago, I finished an eight-week home Bible study. Pam and I hosted the thing with about 18 people, and I led it. I made up my own lessons around the theme “Encounters with Jesus,” trying to impart new twists to familiar stories in the Gospels. It was fun preparing the lessons. I would take a passage, and then muse and muse on it, plumbing every word for new possibilities. In particular, I would note the information which was NOT there.

For instance, with the story of Lazarus, I grew up with a certain picture in my mind left by Sunday school teachers: he was a prominent businessman in his town, a very impressive and respected fellow, and Mary and Martha were younger sisters. But really, we don’t know the birth order of these three, or what Lazarus did, or if any of them were married, or how old they were. So I created three scenarios, then divided people into smaller groups to consider how these scenarios changed the story.

In one, I made Lazarus a 21-year-old with muscular distrophy, totally dependent on his two older sisters. In another, he was a 15-year-old good kid who almost, but didn’t quite, make the cut as one of Jesus’ disciples. Meanwhile, Mary had had an affair with Martha’s ex-husband, which is what gave Mary a bad reputation (we always assume she was a prostitute, but all we really know is that she had done something that gave her a bad reputation).

Another week, we looked at Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the disciples, and Thomas’s behavior. The passages in the various gospels never say that Jesus still had scars in his hands and feet. He showed the disciples his hands and side, but nothing says he had scars. He could just as easily have been saying, “Look–no marks!” If he did have scars from the nails and spear plunge, wouldn’t he still have had scars from the crown of thorns and from the terrible scourging? It’s interesting to read those passages with the thought that his hands, feet, and side were totally fixed.

Now, along comes my friend Anthony Blair with a post about Esther, an Old Testament heroine who I’ve always felt was not somebody to be admired. You can read his excellent post here. I left a comment taken from Frederick Buechner’s book “Peculiar Treasures,” in which he takes off-beat looks at a slew of Bible characters. It’s one of my all-time favorite books. Buechner notes that the book of Esther “has the distinction of being the only book in the Bible where the name of God isn’t even mentioned. There seems every reason to believe that he considered himself well out of it.” Read Anthony’s post and see if you agree.

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The Willow Creek / Christmas Non-Issue

This hubbub over Willow Creek not holding a service on Sunday is really silly. It comes from people who don’t have a clue what Willow Creek does.

A couple of years ago, 20 of us from my church attended the Prevailing Church Conference at Willow. It was an incredible event, and we came back charged up. But I was also impressed with the persistent passion for lost souls that is so clearly evident at Willow. Most churches of Willow’s status would have long ago institutionalized themselves into the status quo with a self-congratulatory pat on the back for becoming so well-known. But Willow’s eyes remain firmly fixed on nonChristians. It’s an amazing example for the rest of us. The big believers’ services at Willow are held during the week (and those are extremely impressive). When Christmas falls on a Wednesday or Thursday, and they have to decide whether or not to cancel one of those services–now we’re talking apples to apples. Sunday is targeted at unbelievers.

Some churches in Fort Wayne have chosen to not hold Sunday services. Most are holding a Saturday nite service. My church always does a Christmas Eve service, but this year we opted for just a Sunday morning service (canceling our early service, and just coming at 10:30 for a 45-minute service). So I guess we’re compromising to an extent. It just didn’t make sense to hold a Christmas Eve service, then return within 12 hours for another service.

Anyways, it’s a non-issue to me. Just thought I’d weigh in. I know you were all waiting to get my opinion on this. So there.

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The Shrine for Pampered Americans

Pam and I just got back from Glenbrook Mall. I hadn’t been there since last Christmas, and I probably won’t return for another year. Not that I dislike shopping. I actually enjoy shopping. Pretty much. But it’s just too crowded up there at Glenbrook. Crowds didn’t used to bother me. But I’m getting old, and I’m convinced that crowd-aversion is one of the symptoms.

One of the booths in the middle of the walking area had little furry cats and dogs, curled up as cute as could be. And BREATHING. That’s right. As they lay their fake-sleeping, you could see their lung area contracting gently, just like a sleeping cat or dog.

There are many signs of an overly-pampered, self-indulgent society with too much disposable income to dispose for the sake of Persons Who Have Everything. This is yet another such sign.

We were also looking for gifts for kids in our church’s neighborhood, kids who may have very little and may plod through an uneventful Christmas. Someone at Anchor put together a list with a whole bunch of kids, along with things they would like for Christmas. Pam agreed to take one particular kid (who we don’t know), and other church people are doing the same for similarly disadvantaged kids.

Glenbrook doesn’t yield much for people with real needs. This is where the pampered go. And I’m glad I don’t enjoy it anymore.

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