Monday, November 27, 2006

I got credit with Jesus!

This is my column for the December issue of our diocesan newspaper "ChurchActs"

Christmas. Credit cards. Big bills. It can really suck the fun out of life. I started thinking about the whole credit idea.
In this case I'm not talking financial credit. What jumped into my mind was a kind of spiritual credit. One that gets misused an awful lot. It's the credit some people think they build up with Jesus. The thinking goes something like this:
“Well, I went to church three times this month, and I served on the last Happening team, and I was nice to everyone, even you-know-who, though they didn't deserve it. So now it's OK if I have a little fun”.
“Fun” usually means “things I know I probably shouldn't be doing or will make my parents/people mad”. The idea is that as long as your “credit report” balances out you're OK. You just want to make sure that you're at least even, or even better, just a bit up on the “good” side over the “bad” side. A lot of people of all ages like to play this kind of credit game with Jesus. Somehow we convince ourselves that it's good enough to be good most of the time, a majority of the time, more often than not. And that this makes the other stuff (lying, cheating, sneaking around behind someones back, or worse) no big deal. If this is the way you've been thinking I have some bad news for you:

Your credit report stinks.

A relationship with God isn't about trying to make the best deal you can. We've already been handed the best deal there is between Christmas and Easter. When we get caught up in trying to “balance” the report what we're really saying is “I'm not really interested in changing. How much do I have to offer to get you to leave me alone?” Well there's good news and bad news. The good news is that God won't ever leave you alone. The bad news is that God won't ever leave you alone! While we know we can't be perfect we need to at least try not to be imperfect. Our culture doesn't want to believe it but it's actually easier and more fun to live life governed by the two concepts of Love God and Love One Another. Love is the “cash” of a life lived in faith. If I follow those rules I'm not going to do things that treat my relationships with God and other people in ways that are damaging. When I treat everything and every one around me with respect life becomes MUCH simpler. I don't have to make up stories to cover or remember which ones I've told. I don't have to avoid people because I'm ashamed or afraid of what they might think or say.

A life without credit is hard to get used to at first. When you get rid of it you realize what a burden it has been. It weighs down everything in your life.

There's no credit with Jesus. “Cash” only.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

What Theologian?

I'd never heard of Anselm before this so I looked him up. I like the quick view of what I see. Two examples from his wikkipedia entry-

"Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this too I believe, that unless I first believe, I shall not understand."

"I hold it to be a failure in duty if after we have become steadfast in our faith we do not strive to understand what we believe."

Yes, I'll take Anselm. Not sure where Calvin came from though! I'm sure we share some theological points, even if no one else has every accused me of any Calvinist leanings.


You scored as Anselm. Anselm is the outstanding theologian of the medieval period.He sees man's primary problem as having failed to render unto God what we owe him, so God becomes man in Christ and gives God what he is due. You should read 'Cur Deus Homo?'



John Calvin


Paul Tillich


Friedrich Schleiermacher




Karl Barth


J�rgen Moltmann</font>


Charles Finney</font>


Martin Luther


Jonathan Edwards


Which theologian are you?

created with

Monday, November 20, 2006

A week for Thanksgiving

This is the week to think about those things for which we should be thankful. Here's a list of some of my major thanksgivings:

1: The many gifts and blessings from God. I'm actually pretty good at a couple of things and not bad at a bunch more. I'm relatively healthy (for a rapidly aging person), I still have my wits about me and I still love life.

2: My wife. It was hard not to put her at the top of this list. Of all my blessings she's been number one. I could go on and on about how wonderful I think she is, but that just embarrasses her. If you know her, you already know what a great person she is. (Entirely too good for the likes of me!)

3: My daughter. Boy was she a surprise 19 years ago! And has been a delight and surprise and wonder ever since. She is every bit as amazing to me as her mom. I just tried not to mess her up as her father.

4: My parents. Both gone now, Dad for six years, Mom for just over one. It's amazing how much of them I find inside me, or see in my daughter. It's even more amazing that with each passing year I realize how much I learned them. They were amazing people and who I am I owe in large part to them.

5: My brothers. I have two amazing brothers. I won't embarrass them by going on and on (we don't do that in our family) but suffice to say I respect and love them both.

6: The young people I've worked with over the last 15 years or so. These people are an ongoing inspiration for me. I can't imagine why they want to hang out with this grown up geek or why they seem to have such affection for me. Fortunately in my personal faith walk I'm comfortable with mystery so I'll leave it at that. I love all "my" kids, past, present and future. You've had an huge impact on my spiritual journey. I hope I've had a fraction of that on yours.

7: The adults I work/minster with. This is an incredibly diverse group of people, young and old, clergy and lay, male and female. I know I irritate them sometimes, I hope I inspire them sometimes too.

8: My home congregation. Can't forget them. Can't begin to tell you how much they mean to me and my family, and how much they've done for us. I just don't have the words.

This barely scratches the surface but let me stop before this looks like a "Top Ten" list. My life has been blessed by my many friends, by folks I don't know (the pall bearers in the snow storm!), even by people I never really liked. I need to thank God for each and every one of you.

Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.
Alleluia, Alleluia.


Friday, November 17, 2006

On respect for our young people

Came across this article in the Times of London online (yes I read all kinds of things) and it brings to mind a long standing peeve of mine.

Stupid children's names.

The first instance I remember of thinking "Well his/her parents were obviously idiots" was back in the '70's when I saw, I swear, a man name Santa Claus interviewed on TV. It was a name given him at birth by parents with a twisted sense of humor or no concept of what they were about to do to this guy. As I remember he was very calm about it, and didn't see it as a big deal. My thoughts ran somewhat differently:

His parents should be flogged in a public place.

The Time article brought this to mind since they show that such dopiness has crossed the big puddle. Children named Reebok, Gandalf and Arsenal (which is a huge football (soccer) team over there. Kind of like naming your kid Dallas Cowboy). It's one thing to hear a name, decide you like it and want your child to have a beautiful name. It's another thing to name them after a sneaker.

Naming them after pop stars with unusual names is dumb. I mean these people do know that his name's not really Tiger right? Naming them after fictional characters is equally idiotic. Come on can you see this poor kid all through elementary and junior high school - "Is Superman Melman here? Superman...Melman?" He better be the strongest kid in class otherwise it's a recess punch fest everyday for years.

What really bothers me is the mind set for the parents who do this. This smacks of child-as-toy which is an utterly disrespectful attitude towards our young people. If you have that little respect for the kid at birth, how is it going to get any better as they grow up? When did child raising become a game for some folks?

I'm a firm believer that part of the role of parent is allowing kids to skin their knees, bloody their noses, and get their feelings hurt at times. We often tend to try and wrap kids in bubble wrap believing we're doing them a favor. Protecting them to this degree doesn't help in the long run. Our kids need to know, to KNOW, deep down in their bones that they can do what they set out to do. They know it to that deep level when they've tried and overcome obstacles. I've written before about how the opportunity to fail is every bit as important as the chance to succeed.

But sabotaging the kid before they even start is just cruel and thoughtless. It's strikes me as be what makes me happy now, rather than what affect it will have on the kid later.

Not everyone needs to be named Tom, Dick or Harry. But no one needs to be given the name Pixie Frou-frou at birth. When you grow up you can call yourself anything you like, even like the guy mentioned at the end of the Times article (looney!).


Do you know why you were named what you're named?

My name was my father's nickname, which he got playing a role in a school play. That I grew up (not really knowing the full story) and taking a degree in Acting struck me as strangely appropriate. When I was an adult my father formally relinquished his claim to the name (a source of ongoing confusion growing up. I was little, then young, then my name with my middle initial for years) It also had the advantage of being short, which my folks hoped would prevent it from being turned into some nasty nickname. They did the same with my two brothers. They pretty much failed all three times but they tried to make our lives EASIER rather than harder on the days we were born.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

A day of wows...

And neither of them good.

First the OJ story. O.J. Simpson has written a book "If I Did It" which details how he would have killed his wife and one other "if he did it". No matter how I look at it this book is reprehensible.

If OJ is innocent how do explain spending that much time thinking about that subject, let alone writing it all down? How do you explain to your kids that THIS is how you decided to make some money?

If OJ is guilty (and I've always believed he is) then this is one of the most evil individual acts I can imagine. It is the ultimate form of spitting on someone's grave. His publisher says it's his "confession". No it isn't, it's a cheap easy way to try and ease his conscience.

What does this have to do with ministry? It's another chance to model for our young people how we believe life should be lived. Don't watch the TV interview, don't buy the book. Until he's ready to make a full confession and accept responsibility (assuming that he's in fact guilty) don't buy into the cheap and easy media event. Don't feed the "car accident gawker" portion of our culture.

Second unpleasant wow. A letter in one of my local newspapers. A local clergy person calls upon the newly elected governor to help congregations that are failing. He wants the governor to "...arrive at solutions to make our churches economically viable..." because "...Like health care and education, spiritual care should be accessible to all." (Full letter is here)

I was flabbergasted. Dumbfounded. Astonished. Appalled. And then I began to laugh.

Brothers and sisters, if we are reduced to having the state government pull our chestnuts out of the fire, if we are incapable of supporting ourselves in a community of faith, then it's time to close the doors and go home. We face a variety of congregations that are struggling, that may or may not survive. I feel for all of them. But if they are not capable of creating a self sustaining community then why do they exist? Should we bail out communities of faith that are little more than personal chapels for a few families? How does this coincide with ANY understanding of the Great Commission?

Beyond that have you seen the way NYS runs MOST things?!?!?!?!?!?! Who in their right mind would want them more deeply involved in church?



Monday, November 13, 2006

On the value of boredom

(This is my column from the November issue of ChurchActs, my diocesan newspaper)

I have a recommendation for you that you're going to think is boring. But this is good boredom, productive, maybe even profitable boredom. So you need to think about it.

Boredom seems to be at the top of the list of “Things that must never happen to me” today. Our American culture has longstanding problems with the idea. Whether you call it downtime or idleness there is a distrust of the concept. “Idle hands are the devil's workshop” is a piece of alleged wisdom that has been handed down for generations. I would remind you that the devil has done some pretty good work with busy hands too.

There are studies out there that boredom is good for you. It actually gets different brain cells fired up, often the ones associated with creativity. That increased brain function can help you feel calmer, relieve stress, help you learn better and make you feel more in control. So a little boredom may be a good thing for you.

So what's this boredom I'm talking about? It's also an old concept in the faith community and one that is making something of a comeback these days. It's called Sabbath. I'd bet most of us can come up with the definition of “A day of rest”. The real question is how many of us really try to live out that concept anymore. The idea of a day of rest (a recommendation from God, no less) is really about time off from your regular life. Time off from your job, school, your everyday routine. The problem for many of us is that even our “rest/play” time has become a job. It's one thing to round up some kids from the neighborhood for a game of some sort and another to have scheduled practices, games and tournaments. So what I want you to think about is simply time to do nothing. A total break from all the things you usually do. Time that you're going to think is pretty boring.

Taking this time, this sabbath, is important. It's important because it will make you stronger. Sabbath time is meant as more than just goofing off time. Sabbath is holy time, time to share with God. It's a space in your life that isn't pressurized. Time to think about you and God, about what God wants for you and from you, and how you're doing. Out of that will grow strength, calm, and a deeper relationship with your creator. You'll also discover that it'll stop being boring pretty quickly.

So how do you do this whole sabbath thing? Trying to take a whole day off right from the start is next to impossible. So let's start small. Carve out about 5-10 minutes every day (all in a chunk) that you can set aside. Time when folks won't bother you, when you can turn off the cell phone, the TV, the computer and just sit. Don't worry about having something “to do” right away. Just start up a conversation with God. Ask the questions that bother you, talk about what really made your day, pray for the people in your life who need it. Pray for yourself. Pray for the people who make you happy and the ones who don't. After you've done that for a couple weeks add a longer sabbath once a week. Take a half an hour and do something more intensive. Read a short portion of the bible (where do you start? As Episcopalians we have a daily reading schedule available to us. It's called the Lectionary and there's one in every prayer book. Check out the section marked “Daily Office”, we're in year 2 till the end of this month, then we flip over to year 1 again. Easy!), read some other book that has to do with faith or that makes you think. Then spend the rest of the time thinking about what you read, what does it mean, why on earth did they keep that in there?

Once you've gotten started you'll find there are all kinds of other things you can do to really make your sabbath time rock. You may even get to the point where you can do a whole day of rest. From my own experience I think you'll find that things become clearer, that life becomes easier to handle and that you'll be happier.

And you certainly won't be bored.


( A note to Parents: It is vitally important that we help our kids make time for God in their busy lives. If your child wants to find a Sabbath during the day help them clear that time and protect them from intrusions. Sabbath doesn't have to be only solo time. Finding a family sabbath time can be a great practice for everyone to share.)

Well I did it

Well following the lead of fellow foot dragger RevRef I have moved over to the "new" blogger software. My ongoing concern has been that they refer to it as "beta", which to my mind always means "We're pretty sure there are still some bugs in this stuff but we're gonna let you find them for us".

Which I resent. I mean it's THEIR job to write code, not mine. Anyway...

So I checked this morning and all I see is the word "new"! Ah, they've finished the process and now I may proceed. It isn't until you've started the process that the word "beta" re-appears.


So if this all goes horribly wrong, I'm blaming the priest in Montana. LOL.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Just in time for Christmas

What on earth are some people thinking? The following are real products aimed at young people.

Tesco, a major retailer in England, has agreed to remove a stripper pole kit from its "Toy" section. Yep, right there along side Barbie and Tonka trucks (or their English equivalents) you'd find a kit with extendable pole, garter, sexy music, fake money and lessons on doing, well, what you do on a stripper pole. What genius saw fit to classify this as a "toy"? All it would have taken is about 3 seconds of thought to come to the realization, "You know this is the section of the web page that the kiddies spend the most time on. Maybe this isn't the best place for it." Curiously it has now been moved to the "Fitness Accessory" category.

Major retailers in Jolly Old are obviously a different breed than over here. Not sure if that's good or bad.

Here's my favorite though:

"Left Behind - Eternal Forces". This is a video game based on the extremely popular book series. I've read most of the books but got bored about 2/3 of the way through the series.

The video game has some serious problems in my view.

First while the maker stresses that it's a "strategy" game there's plenty of places for good old fashioned shoot 'em ups. This from the manufacturers website:

Conduct physical & spiritual warfare : using the power of prayer to strengthen your troops in combat and wield modern military weaponry throughout the game world.

Am I the only one having a problem with that concept? I know I'm only an Episcopalian but doesn't Jesus warn us that those who live by the sword, die by the sword?

Then we have:
Command your forces through intense battles across a breathtaking, authentic depiction of New York City .

· Control more than 30 units types - from Prayer Warrior andHellraiserr to Spies, Special Forces and Battle Tanks

Now follow that up with this line from the company's FAQ area:

The millions of parents – and many casual players of games – that are looking for entertainment that also offers positive, inspirational content will flock to this title. (bold face is mine)

I will acknowledge that the players are supposed to try and evangelize and convert "the other side". This is done by getting your character to stand next to some other character for three seconds. That's it. Who knew it was that easy?

So am I anti-video game? No. While not a player myself I have no problem with the concept. I don't like some of the games out there that turn violence into amusements.

Am I a pacifist? No, not really. I enjoy the Chronicles of Narnia, and there's violence in those as well. I recognize all violence as being outside the teaching of Christianity. Of course most of the world remains outside of Christianity in many ways too.

Beyond any theological disagreements some of us may have with the whole "Left Behind" universe I get seriously queasy about tying the concepts of "Christian faith" and "wield modern military weaponry". I'm even more appalled that some churches are allowing this to be marketed in/through/with them.

The games are expected to get either a "T" rating (13 and up) or an "E" rating (age 6 and up). That's even more disturbing in some ways.

So my recommendation? Don't buy it. Don't let your kids buy it. Don't let someone else buy it for them. (The same goes for video crap like "Grand Theft Auto") If this is the best idea we can come up with to use the amazing technology of computer gaming, then maybe our kids need to spend more time outside. Playing in God's reality.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Beginning anew

As part of my response to the previous post (and my thanks to everyone who has responded so far, by comment (Mad Priest rules!)by e-mail, by phone (Deacon John rules as well! Although probably NOT in the same room with Mad Priest. I have a cool group of friends)and in person. I love you all) I'm working on getting my mind and spirit back into our proper Hawaiian shirted, serving youth, loving God, emergent traditionalist mind set.

There was only one thing to do.

Clean my office.

My office is the perfect symbol of my mental state. It's never really clean and orderly but there's a certain rhythm to things. I work in a very tiny space, about 8 foot by 10 foot. In it is my corner computer desk and chair, entertainment center for the sound system, TV (currently missing since the old one died), DVD player, VCRs, chair for a visitor, small filing cabinet that doubles as my worship area, large filing cabinet, small book shelves. Plus two cases of bottled water, two cases of juice boxes (for the next youth event) various snack food bags (same reason), the leftover t-shirts, PA system, signs, limbo poles etc. That's what's in here when it's "neat". Add in extra papers, boxes, catalogs and assorted crappola and the room goes down hill fast. So if my mind has started to come unraveled the office follows. How bad was it? Two full trash cans have left the office, so far.

And I feel much better.

So keep praying for me.

Oh and by the way... if I've irked you, annoyed you or you just think I'm a complete ninny would you PLEASE tell me??????? How am I gonna get better if my brothers and sisters don't give a brutha a little help? I promise I'll listen. And we'll see where we go from there.



I really am feeling better.

So what's the weirdest thing in your office? My bet is that youth ministry types especially have strange stuff. Looking through my many candidates I'd say it's probably my two small rubber gargoyles, souvenirs of someone's trip to the Nat'l Cathedral. Either that or the roll of toilet paper I keep here which is NOT for use in the bathroom.

Go ahead, ask.

Got to go.


Monday, November 06, 2006

An apology

I've been trying to avoid writing this entry for a couple weeks now. Shortly before our diocesan convention I prepared a report on youth ministry. As I looked back over the year I saw that we'd had a good number of successful events. There had been a couple that didn't work, including Junior High camp (which we eventually cancelled due to low enrollment). As I thought about all my "jobs" I realized that I wasn't happy with my performance. I hadn't "dropped any balls" but several things had been finalized later than they should have, details were fixed on the fly and I had relied on my ability to "ad lib" an awful lot. The year wasn't a failure, but it certainly wasn't the kind of performance I expect from myself.

When I went to convention I found some folks pretty upset about canceling camp and not real happy with me. I worked hard not to just reject the criticism (come on, who likes being told they've messed up?)and listen. And it was an echo of what I'd heard when I was preparing the report. I may not agree with them about canceling camp, but I can hardly say I was happy that we had arrived at place where we had to face making that decision at all.

So I began to think about apologizing.

There's a good biblical/traditional basis for it. It allows me to acknowledge my shortcomings. It supports the kind of honesty and transparency I believe is vital in my ministry.

And I soooooo don't want to do it.

I hate falling short of my own expectations (For the record let me note that at the end of my first full year in this job I had a job performance review. I submitted a self review and other folks also submitted reviews. When I was brought in to discuss the results I was marked down seriously in only one area: "Sets goals too high". I am who I am). I REALLY hate having to admit failure publicly. I don't want other people to know what a loser I am (that's what I hear in my head). I want them to think that I'm wonderful, even when I know the truth. You see, I'm just trying to protect you from a unpleasant realization.

Yeah, right.

Of course I could plead that it was a tough year. It was. Over the last year my mom, my last surviving parent, died. My wife has had two major operations. My only child has gone off to college. We moved to a new house. A friend told me that other than divorce and bankruptcy I'd hit most of the major life stress events all in one year. But that's not really an excuse, and I don't like making excuses anyway.

I apologize to my youth because they deserved better. Same goes for my bishop, and the adults that work with me in this ministry. They deserve me on top of my game not just being average. I apologize to the kids who missed out on Junior High camp this year. It's always an amazing event, the kind you remember for the rest of your life. One chapter in that book will always be missing and I carry part of that responsibility. I'm sorry to you all. I'm sorry for the folks who have supported me because now they have to spend time defending themselves. Some of you went out on a limb fighting for this position and for me to fill it. I let you down and I'm sorry.

I finally decided to write this while reading Reverend Ref's blog. In one of the comments someone noted that "We're called to be faithful, not successful". It was one of those moments when it feels like God taps me on the shoulder to say "Excuse me, if you would just turn your attention over HERE I have something I need you to see". Even as I've struggled I think I've been faithful. I'd love to be successful too but that's a hit or miss proposition. A priest friend of mine told me yesterday about the trials and tribulations of getting through the service. The circuit breaker blew, they ran out of wine, etc. But they were faithful. I hope that I have been as well.

My pledge is that I will continue to be faithful. That I will work hard. That I will give my best everyday (though "my best" may vary from day to day). I will do everything in my power to be successful. That I'll try to be the youth minister I want to be and that all those folks above deserve.

In the meantime,

I'm sorry.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Way to go Matthew!!!

I mentioned before that my friend Matthew was involved in the TV show "Biggest Loser". While he wasn't chosen to stay on the ranch at first he has earned a chance to get on it later in the show. Six folks of the ones sent home originally have been invited back. Two of them (1 guy, 1 girl) will get to stay and try to win the big prize. I'm really excited for Matthew and it gives me more push to keep working on my own middle aged spread.

Check out Matthew's latest blog entry, and check out the show's main page

So all of us involved in youth ministry have our boy in the race! Keep him in your prayers.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Well, that was interesting...

In the last week I've been in two states (NY and PA) and two countries (US and Canada). I took an official oath (as executor of my mother's estate), signed many legal documents, attended our diocesan convention, raked leaves for the first time in over a decade and just generally ran myself ragged.

So a few notes from the week:

Best line overheard at convention: A clergy person (who shall remain nameless but he's quite tall) on a cell phone walking past me "I'm on my way to the bar for the budget hearing". Only at an Episcopal convention. For the record it was in the morning, the bar was not operating, we were simply using that space for the hearing. Given how the budget hearing goes some years doing it in the bar may not be a bad idea. Budget was passed without discussion this year (which is not necessarily a good thing)

My thanks to the youth from St. Phillip's for coming out for the youth event at Convention. It was a first time event and they let me try the program out on them this year. Look for it again next year.

I was in Canada for the annual Quint diocese day. Bishops and their staffs from the dioceses of WNY, Rochester, Huron, Niagara and Toronto gather once a year to sit around and gripe about everyone else in their dioceses. Ummmmmm...........joke! We get together to discuss a variety of issues that face us at the diocesan level and in our specific geographic area. It's always very interesting. This year was the first specific meeting of diocesan youth ministry staff. I have great hopes for what may come from that. Also great to hear that we face similar challenges.

I didn't realize that I really DID have to be "sworn in" as the executor of the estate. Had raise my hand and repeat after. My brother flew in from Texas to help me out (he's an attorney) and we had a cool time hanging out and talking in between meetings and chores.

Late last week sometime my main e-mail address at the diocese became so filled with spam that it shut itself down. Which was a little scary since it is, well, my MAIN e-mail! That's been fixed now and I'm back in communication with the world.

Raking leaves was, well, raking leaves.

Pray for our Happening this weekend! A great team led by Chuck Berds and some really great youth as candidates.