Author Archives: Steve

Standing Behind Principle

I find it admirable when people are willing to stand behind their convictions. It’s not necessary that I agree with those convictions. I might even think those convictions are stupid. But I do admire the principled fortitude which says, “This is what I believe, and I’m going to act accordingly.”

Our denomination has had a continuing debate about alcohol. We are currently a total abstention church–if you have even one sip of wine at a family gathering, you can’t be a United Brethren member. I don’t agree with that stand–it goes well beyond what the Bible requires. But there are people who do believe strongly in that stand, and both their words and their actions undergird it. If we change the stand, the true believers will leave. I can respect that.

My alma mater, Huntington College, has been engaged in a debate for the past several years over a professor who is a leading proponent of a controversial doctrine called Open Theism. The faculty strongly supports him. I hear of threats, by some, to leave if this professor is forced out. They believe so strongly in academic freedom and other issues surrounding this controversy, that they couldn’t in good conscience stay at Huntington College if this professor is axed. Well, the Board of Trustees took action to release this professor. Will those faculty members follow through? I will respect those who do, indeed, leave. They are standing behind their words and convictions. I admire that. For others–well, I guess it wasn’t such a big deal, after all. Just words.

Our denomination is looking at doing away with the regional conference structure we have used since 1810 (when we first had multiple conferences). This is a big deal. And I’ve discovered a huge disconnect between what some people have said, and how they are now acting.

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NCAA Bracket Busting

I correctly guessed 24 of the first 32 games in the NCAA basketball tournament. That’s not bad. The whole left side looks pretty good. But the right side is in shambles, thanks to Kansas. I picked Kansas to end up in the finals, against Illinois. I’m not sure why. I just kept filling out the brackets, and Kansas kept surviving, and then there they were, in the final. Meanwhile, I turned traitor on my favorite team, Arizona, letting them get bumped off in the Sweet 16. My other favorite team, UCLA, I picked to get beat in the first round, and they did. Where is my loyalty? My faith?

But Kansas–that really blew things for my bracket. Who in the world is Bucknell? I don’t even know where Bucknell is located. Since the mascot is the Bisons, I’m going to take a wild guess and say Bucknell isn’t located in Massachusetts.

Well: Go Illinois. I write that totally devoid of passion. I couldn’t care less about Illinois. Nor anyone else in the Big Ten, for that matter. I skew toward the western teams. So I’ll be cheering, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, for: Washington (no enthusiasm), Utah (moderate–a classmate of mine, Greg Deane, played at Utah, then played a couple years for the Utah Jazz), and of course Arizona (high enthusiasm). And New Mexico. Almost forgot about them.

And how can I not root for the Cinderella team, Vermont, which knocked off Syracuse?

Another good tournament. Always a highlight of the year. Someday my bracket will work out.

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The Civility of Ping Pongsters

I continue playing ping pong regularly. Mostly, I’m going to the club on the east side of town, which meets on Tuesday nights and Saturday afternoons. It has a lot of good players, as opposed to only a couple players coming to the one on the west side of town (my side). Last night, I played 8 or 9 matches during the three-hour period. I beat the guys I should have beat, and lost to the ones who were better than me, though I put up a pretty good fight and won a couple games off of guys who had previously beaten me 3-0 (we play best of 5 games, with 11-point games).

About 25 guys were there last night, and I’ve played probably 40 different guys during the past two months. Two guys, both named Tom, are clearly better than everyone else. They are the upper tier. Then there is a tier of about 8 guys who are very good, and fairly well matched. I was surprised last night when, in separate conversations, two different guys put me in that group. I’m definitely on the bottom end of it looking up, but it was flattering.

This is just about the nicest bunch of guys I’ve ever been around. It’s not a church thing–just a secular, city club that happens to meet at a church. But I’ve never been around a more gracious, nice, friendly, courteous bunch of guys. Not a single person there acts stuck-up, gets upset about losing, or otherwise displays a bad attitude. Like a bunch of Mormons or something.

By comparison, I think of the church softball, basketball, and volleyball leagues I’ve played in. My goodness, if you want to find unsportsmanlike jerks, go play in a church league. Why is that? And why are pastor-athletes sometimes the worst of the bunch? Would the character of the ping-pong club plummet if a preacher showed up to play? Hmmmm.

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Christian Moshing

We had one of our Christian hardcore music concerts Friday night. I didn’t go to this one, but I talked to Tony about it this morning. He heads up these concerts. It went well, he told me, except for the guy who tried to start a fight.

Our “concert hall” is just the basement fellowship hall with everything pushed to the sides. Everyone stands throughout the concert, and they are close enough to touch the band members. And they often do. Musicians and audience are standing, basically, face to face. Except when they’re moshing. That usually happens right up front. The crowd pushes back, and in the space between them and the band, the kids bang into each other and do little (for want of a better term, something that wouldn’t horrify them) “jigs,” creative little dance thingies that I enjoy watching. Please excuse the technical jargon.

At secular hardcore concerts, people who venture into the mosh pit sometimes leave battered and bruised. That’s not quite the case at our concerts. Yes, they bang into each other. Yes, arms and legs flail around without a lot of attention to whose nose might be in the path. But I’ve never seen anyone get hurt. More often, if something borders on rough, the offending person will say, “I’m sorry, are you okay? I didn’t mean to hit you.” It’s Christian hardcore, after all.

But on Friday, some kid didn’t quite understand that. So as he was innocently watching the music or talking to something–at any rate, not paying attention to the moshing–someone banged into him, and he got mad. He grabbed the offending mosher in a headlock, and was headed in a not-so-nice direction. But other kids immediatley stepped in, stopped it, and basically kicked the kid out. He wanted to fight, and they wouldn’t allow it. They sent him on his way. We didn’t need an adult there to police things. And though we have an off-duty policeman on hand, he’s usually not in the concert area. Instead, the concert-goers took ownership, and wouldn’t allow something bad to happen. Self-policing.

That encourages me. From what I hear, we’re the only venue in Fort Wayne which allows Christian hardcore concerts. The kids appreciate that and don’t want to jeapordize it. They have a sense of owernship, these kids with the tattoos and multitudinous piercings and all-black attire. And that gives me a good feeling.

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When You Love What You’re Doing

It’s been nearly two weeks since I posted anything. I’ve been conscious of that, but I’ve had other things on my mind. Actually, one thing: redesigning the United Brethren website.

I’ve been tinkering around with new designs for several months. I finally found something I liked during February, and worked on refining it. Once I committed to the design and was ready to implement new templates and stylesheets and a new structure, I had to totally immerse myself in the task of converting hundreds of pages over to the new design.

So for three weeks, that’s about all I’ve been doing. During the past two weeks in particular, I’ve been totally engulfed in this. And the thing is: it’s FUN. This week I’ve been coming in around 6 am and leaving around 8 pm, and then feeling anxious to get back to it the next morning. There’s something about a huge creative project that gives me an adrenaline rush. (The fact that Pam is deep into tax season, working similarly long hours, gives me license to work late.)

Yesterday, I went live with the new site, and a few minutes ago, I sent an email to our constituency telling them about the new site. I just know I’m going to hear back about miscellaneous broken links and other problems, despite my best efforts to track down everything. I continue to stumble across such errors. But that’s okay. Other people can help me get it right.

I appreciate the fact that many people work at jobs that are a drudgery to them. I’m fortunate to have something that gives me the chance to tackle huge creative projects that are not only immensely rewarding when done, but are immensely fun in the process. Designing Filemaker databases is that way. Designing slides in Photoshop. Writing books. That’s what I’ll be doing most of next week, taking four days (actually, compensatory time) to work on my novel. I’ll be fully engrossed in that, though it’s a whole different kind of creative project. It’ll be immensely fun.

Yeah, I don’t have a lot to complain about.

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Altar Call Encounters

I grew up seeing God reach down into the pews during services, grab hold of someone, and propel them to the altar. That’s basically what happens during altar calls. Maybe nothing in the sermon grabbed me, but come time for the altar call, I would discover that God was, indeed, at work. Someone would get out of a pew and walk to the altar, sometimes with tears. Every once in a while, I made the trek for a need in my own life.

I miss that. Churches shy away from altar calls nowadays, because it’s not considered visitor-friendly or culturally-sensitive or whatever. Maybe God is still moving, but I don’t see it. And I miss that. As I’ve already said.

Yesterday, we had an altar call–not for salvation, but for other needs. Six people came up while the worship team played “Breathe.” Two young women, probably in their late 30s, knelt down just in front of where I was playing the keyboard. Both were in tears. One elder fellow in the church talked and prayed with one of the ladies, but nobody came to pray with the other one. So I left the keyboard and knelt down in front of her. I didn’t know her very well, but she poured out some deep hurts, relationship things. And I prayed with her, feeling totally inadequate to provide any real counsel. Relationships can be so complicated. They defy simple answers, so I didn’t try to provide any. My prayer just affirmed her and asked for guidance and wisdom for her.

The other lady, and the man counseling her, finished up. But I knelt down with her quickly, asking if she was okay. This was someone I didn’t know at all. She poured out her story quickly. Another women with deep hurts. More relationship things. Issues beyond her control.

I had grown up seeing people like this come to the altar, and seeing them kneel with the pastor or a mature Christian to talk and pray. Now I got a good glimpse of what some of those altar-call needs were all about.

I’ve been thinking about those two ladies all day, and the depth of their pain. Can’t get them off my mind.

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Al Gore Speaks

In the 1980s, I interviewed Paul Rees, the evangelical leader who has since passed on. One of my questions was simply, “What magazines do you read.” He mentioned several which I expected, and added, “The Christian Century.” That surprised me, it being a mainstream Protestant publication. He noted my surprise, and said, “I don’t agree with much of what they say, but I want to know what they’re saying.”

That’s been my attitude toward many things. And it’s why I read a lengthy profile of Al Gore in the New Yorker a few months ago. I would never vote for the guy for President, but he’s a good thinker (with a different view of the world than me, and therefore different conclusions) and a good writer. The profile was excellent, one of the best articles I’ve read during the past year. It focused on showing what Gore’s life is like now after his disappointment in the 2001 election.

I was weeding out old magazines this morning, and came across that article. I reread some parts I had highlighted. I thought I’d print some of what Gore had to say about George Bush, because I found it quite fascinating. Gore said:

“The real distinction of this Presidency is that, at its core, he is a very weak man. He projects himself as incredibly strong, but behind closed doors he is incapable of saying no to his biggest financial supporters and his coalition in the Oval Office. He’s been shockingly malleable to Cheney and Rumsfield and Wolfowitz…. He was rolled in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. He was too weak to resist it.

“I’m not of the school that questions his intelligence. There are different kinds of intelligence, and it’s arrogant for a person with one kind of intelligence to question someone with another kind. He certainly is a master at some things, and he has a following. He seeks strength in simplicity. But, in today’s world, that’s often a problem. I don’t think that he’s weak intellectually. I think that he is incurious.

“I think his weakness is a moral weakness. I think he is a bully, and like all bullies, he’s a coward when confronted with a force that he’s fearful of. His reactions to the extravagant and unbelievably selfish wish lists of the wealthy interest groups that put him in the White House is obsequious. The degree of obsequiousness that is involved in saying ‚Äòyes, yes, yes, yes yes’ to whatever these people want, no matter the damage and harm done to the nation as a whole‚Äîthat can only come from genuine moral cowardice. I don’t see any other explanation for it.”

I’m not printing this because I agree with it. But I do find it interesting.

I’m also conscious of the fact that in my circles–working for a conservative evangelical denomination that skews very heavily toward the Republican Party–printing anything negative about George Bush is almost heresy. I know way to many people who give Bush a pass on just about anything he does. That frightens me. Though I voted for Bush twice, without regrets, and will admit that he had some shining moments after 9/11, I’m not a big fan and I don’t think history will treat him very well. But that’s something I can tackle later, if I dare.

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Musings on Sunbeams

Last Thursday at music practice, we did Todd Agnew’s “Grace Like Rain.” We then played it on Sunday as the offertory, just to introduce it to the congregation. It’s a great song, and we’ll be making it part of our regular reportoire.

I struggled to find the right sound to use on the keyboard. For kicks, I finally tried a French Accordion sound from my QSR sound module. I’ve used it on “Shout to the North” and a few other songs, but it’s not something I use much. Just doesn’t fit a band’s sound. But in this case, it worked. Nothing in Agnew’s recording even hints at an accordion, but we liked the sound. It gave the song an Anchor twist.

Our backup drummer, who graduated from high school last May, was there. He wasn’t playing that week, but was at practice just to hang around. He got a kick out of the French Accordion sound. I told him it reminded me of Nirvana’s “Jesus Don’t Want Me for a Sunbeam” song from the MTV Unplugged album. (The bass player also plays accordion. Who knew?) First of all, he was impressed that an Old Guy knew anything about Nirvana. Then we wracked our brains trying to remember how the accordion part went. It wouldn’t come to us.

When I got home, I called up the song on my iTunes, and then hacked out the accordion part on the piano. It was quite easy. Maybe someday I’ll play that part as the intro to some other worship song. We’ve done the Doobie Brothers “China Grove” opening to the Maranatha version of “Rock of Ages,” and the “Smoke on the Water” opening to lead into “The Name of the Lord.” That’s always fun. We’re trying to figure out how to use the Free Bird intro–the guitarists have the part down, and have messed around with using it with “Power of Your Love,” but it’s still in the experimental stage. I’m sure if I did a Nirvana intro to a worship song, it would freak out our college students.

Anyway, all of this prompted me to wonder more about the lyrics. The lyrics were actually written by The Vaselines, a group I’m not familiar with. The writer obviously knew the song “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” which indicates he had some kind of church background of the Bible-believing variety. The song itself speaks of some kind of inner spiritual battle which was definitely headed in the wrong direction. There is what appears to be an allusion to dying to self, and in singing it, Kurt Cobain is basically saying he’s not interested in doing that.

Anyway, here are the lyrics:

Jesus don’t want me for a sunbeam
Sunbeams are never made like me

Don’t expect me to cry,
For all the reasons you had to die
Don’t ever ask your love of me

Don’t expect me to cry
Don’t expect me to lie
Don’t expect me to die for me

I find all of this fascinating. Why did Cobain choose to perform this song? What resonated with him? Was there some kind of spiritual battle being waged–and lost–in Kurt Cobain? The fact that he committed suicide not all that long after the Unplugged concert speaks of something happening internally.

Anyway, just some musings on a guy I’ve come to appreciate as a truly ground-breaking musical artist who, on the inside, most definitely didn’t have things together.

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The Web — Where Revival Begins?

I was on the Christianity Today website and noticed a little ad about a tool for creating websites for churches. The text said: “Church revival? It begins with your website!”

Isn’t that precious?

I could go on at length being sarcastic about “Is that what our denomination needs–better websites?”, and comments about the inadequacy of prayer, vision, leadership, etc. All to poke fun at this ad. But I think the joke is clear. No need for me to elaborate.

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Searching, Grasping, Leaping

My denomination’s National Board met last Monday and Tuesday, and they were in the mood to do something drastic. I must commend them for leaping to some significant changes. I’m skeptical, but then, I’m still in the frame of mind that any “solution” we devise will be a very distant second-best to the humongous opportunities and synergies which we would have enjoyed by combining into the Missionary Church. But that’s not gonna happen, so I need to get over it. No sense continuing to wallow in sour grapes.

So, what is the United Brethren Church gonna do?

The initiative to join the Missionary Church emerged from a full-day long-range planning session by a group of a dozen thoughtful leaders. Last summer, I was privileged to eavesdrop on a two-day Missionary Church denominational planning meeting with about 50 people from across the country. I was impressed with the thoughtful, thorough way they approached things.

I wasn’t impressed with how we did it. I would have preferred that we start by determining such things as purpose, who we want to be, what we want to live and die for, what we want to excel at. Then structure around that. We just talked about those things, a scattershot approach, without settling on anything. Then we jumped right to structure. The first motion, the one that got the ball rolling, was to do away with the annual conference structure we’ve had for about 200 years. Whatever structure we ended up with, it would start with that building block. Like saying, “Let’s design a new car, but no matter what else it includes, it must have a V-6 engine.” My goodness that’s a stupid analogy, but my brain’s analogy-coming-up-with engine isn’t working real well right now.

Anyway, we’ll do away with conferences, group all 250 churches across the country into “cluster groups” of 5-7 churches, and let the bishop appoint all of the cluster group leaders. Interaction, accountability, pastoral development‚Äîmost things will occur within the cluster group context. Are we going to be a top-down organization, or a grassroots organization? We heard two proposals early in the meeting, and they were at odds on that point. But from the looks of it, we’re going to be top-down, which means we need to make sure we have the leadership that can make this radically-different structure work, and which can instill in our ministerial ranks the mindset needed to make it click. No matter how you look at it, a huge amount of leadership energy over the next 6-10 years will go into getting this structure in place and working out the bugs. It won’t be easy.

“Okay, Steve, rather than just gripe, give us an alternative.” That’s fair. But I’m sorry, I don’t have one. This may, indeed, be the best option out there. I’m cynical about how we got there, just as some people were disturbed with the process which led to the recommendation to join the Missionary Church. But I always say that process is an easy target; if you don’t like something, you can always find fault with the process–it’s not something that requires significant brainpower. Regardless of the process, if a solution is the best solution, then admit it. All things considered, I may need to do that in this case.

That’s all I’m gonna say for now. It’s enough.

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