Friday, November 30, 2007

The Golden Compass

And so it begins again. The furor that we saw some Christians making over the Harry Potter books and movies has resurfaced with Philip Pullman's "The Golden Compass" and the other books of the "His Dark Materials" trilogy.

The books have won some of the highest honors out there in the publishing industry (the Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread award among others). They are also part of his deep seated disdain of Christianity. I've read them and thought they were well written. But they also offer a challenge to my deeply held belief system. To be honest I have to admit that my enjoyment of the books declined with each volume, as his attacks on God and belief became more violent. As a youth minister novels and movies like this are fertile ground for questions and study. I do not believe we best serve our young people by either ignoring or attempting to ban these stories. Much better we confront them (the stories,not the youth!) and discuss what we see as wrong rather than screaming "Heretic" and "Blasphemy" from the steeples.

The best answer to this comes from Jeffrey Overstreet who served "Christianity Today" as their film critic for a long time. As with any critic I don't always agree with Jeff but I respect his knowledge of film and the depth of his faith. He offers a great response to most of the common questions in his column:
"Questions I've been asked, Answers I've given"

In the best of all possible worlds there would not be books that attack and demean ideas and institutions about which we care deeply. You may have noticed that we do not live in the best of all possible worlds. My great concern is how often we as people of faith do far MORE damage to our beloved institutions and beliefs when we lash out wildly. I have no respect or time for people who will condemn a book or a movie while proudly announcing that they've never read/seen it. We are all allowed to decline to view something because we don't believe we'll like it. There's a difference between an opinion and an intelligent opinion.


More from my home in faith

My friend Lee got me started on these then I got distracted. So here's another look at part of my home parish. This is the old baptismal font. A few years back our interim wanted to move it to the more theologically/traditional correct place by the main doors in the back. Some of us tried to point out that there was no place back there to move this thing and that it would make the congregation have to turn and stand backwards in the pews for baptisms. He didn't see that as a problem (we did. I will note for fairness sake that I liked our interim and I think he did a wonderful job. We just a few disagreements along the way) What finally dissuaded him was the fact that it was cemented to the floor where it is! So there it remains. It is my habit (I can't explain why) to touch the angel on the wing as I pass by after taking Communion.

If you're looking for a sense of scale that's a grand piano visible in the back. It sits about 6-8 feet from the wings.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Prayers for children?

H/T to the folks at Youth Specialties for pointing this one out.

What might children hear in a bedtime prayer?
This is from comedian Tim Hawkins


Pittsburgh 3 Miami 0

Yes, that was the most ridiculous, absurd, horrible football game I've ever watched. It was a train wreck, not so much because the teams were incompetent but because there was so little they could do about any of it. That field was wretched.

In the end I'll take the results.

Oh, quick update on my football pool. I'm doing better (except when my beloved Steelers mess me up by losing to the JETS of all teams). But this was a tough week, I got 9 of 16 games right for 100 out of 136 points. So my points per pick was pretty good.

H/T to Kevin Boddecker for this one:

Yeah, that actually makes a lot more sense.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Back from vacation

I took the parts of last week that weren't already holidays as vacation and swore to myself that I wouldn't do anything that was related to work. This blog is an interesting question since it started as a "ministry" blog but has grown to be something larger/different than that.

Time away was good, I'm hoping I can continue to expand on some of the energy that was generated.

In the meantime:

What Social Status are you?
created with
You scored as Middle Class

You're content in your position and would prefer a house or a family than a seven figure pay cheque. But you have your moments of weakness when you buy a lottery ticket in the hope of knowing how the rich and famous live.

Middle Class


Lower Class


Upper middle Class




Luxurious Upper Class


I'd say this is fairly accurate. I do buy lottery tickets because as the tag line used to say "Hey, you never know". Money, in and of itself, isn't evil. If you're thinking "But the Bible says that money is the root of all evil" then go back and read it again(1Timothy 6:7-10). Money is a tool and a very useful one. Tools can be misused but that doesn't make the tool evil. My hope is that I would be able to use that tool well. For me and my neighbors.

I'm just sayin'.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Why I love Youth Specialties

This is Tic and Marko, two "important" guys from Youth Specialties.
Two guys with serious reps in youth ministry.
Two guys who still get it.
These guys are my heroes (and yes even with the little bit of "off color" in the video. It's not a big deal to me but it may be to some so you have been warned)

Is it just me or does Marko have a look on his face that says "I can't believe I'm doing this in front of a couple thousand people?" But in true junior high ministry fashion he just goes for it.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

On humbleness

Like many people here in the blogosphere I have a list of blogs I read on a regular basis. This morning while checking in at Grandmere Mimi's site Wounded Bird I came across this little test for your blog. So I tried it. Oh, how I wished that I hadn't when I saw this result:
cash advance My first reaction was to be angry, then depressed. It seemed to be saying that I wasn't a very good writer.

And that hurts. I will admit to thinking that writing is among my gifts and to confess that I even carry a little bit of pride about the quality of what I create.

Apparently I was wrong.

Then I went back and looked at what the site said it tested. It says "What level of education is required to understand your blog?". It doesn't show anywhere what the standards are for that classification. Is that I don't use big words? Is it passing judgment on the quality of the ideas or the style of writing? Don't know. Doesn't say.

It didn't make it any easier when I checked back at Mimi's and discovered I was the ONLY person to score at the elementary school level. Mimi assures me that I can keep visiting her place despite my low score.

As I thought about it more I realized how much my pride was involved. What difference did it make that some site, using God only knows what standards has put this rating on me? Is it really desirable to have a blog that requires a "Genius" level to understand it? More importantly am I unhappy with what I've written? What kind of response have I gotten from those of you who stop by?

The answer is I'm quite happy with what I've written. I'm not trying for deathless prose (trying for it invariably means you fail. It either happens or it doesn't). I've been deeply flattered through the years with the mostly kind comments I've received from my readers. I don't think I've embarrassed myself or my ministry with my writing here.

So I'll keep doing what I'm doing, glad that my writing is accessible to virtually anyone. I'll keep trying to write well without any attempt to writing pretension.

I'm a simple guy using simple words to talk about a simple walk in faith.
And that's OK.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Football makes me crazy!

Well my football pool got hammered this weekend. Going into tonight's game I'm 6-7. Yuck. And I thought both the Bills and the Steelers were really going to put a damper on my day but they pulled it out.

I saw a movie in the theater the other day! Can't remember the last one of those. It was on the recommendation of my favorite daughter and was pretty cool.

Across The Universe Someone compared it to "If Moulin Rouge and Hair had a child..." and that's probably pretty close. The story really revolves around the Beatles music (there are 30+ in the film)it's set in the '60's during the Viet Nam war. The main characters are Jude and Lucy (Beatles, Beatles, Beatles!)and the story is pretty straight forward. Bono, Eddie Izzard, and Selma Hayek makes cameos. The audience was almost entirely late HS/college age plus us older folks. It was really a lot of fun and great to sing along with (quietly of course!)

Stranger Than Fiction Let's be up front here. I don't like Will Ferrell, I generally don't think he's funny. "Anchorman" was OK (funnier than I expected), everything else is crap (apologies to the language sensitive). But I really liked this movie. Reminds me of Jim Carey in "The Majestic", toning it down and actually doing some acting. Now Carey's fans hated "The Majestic" and so he's gone back to doing his "thing" and I expect that this will be the same. But it's a wonderful sensitive movie that's funny and touching and well done.

And a book I read:

At First Sight by Nicholas Sparks. Don't ask me why I read this. It's a NYT best seller but essentially it's a romance novel and I don't read romance novels. No one remembers how it got into our house but the cover looked interesting and I needed something to read. It's well written, kinda funny, very touching and yes I read the whole thing. I'll probably never pick up another book by Sparks (the plot was really simple and obvious. I'm astounded to see some people call the ending a "surprise"). But I did enjoy it.

I dumped several of the books I listed before, they just weren't grabbing me. So I'm reading an old friend - The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov. Great books.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Oh Yeah.

You are 100% Pittsburgh.

Great job! There's nooooo doubt about it. You're from Da Burgh. You deserve a reward, so go have an Ahrn City or two. And GO STILLERS!

How Pittsburgh Are You
See All Our Quizzes

Pink Think

This is my column from the November edition of our diocesan newspaper. This finally gets me caught up! Kudos to my Canadian friend Dan for the story

I need to be honest up front. I've never been a fan of pink (the color not the singer). It's not a color I look good in. Over the last couple decades I've seen pink become a color that was no longer a “girl” color and many more men wearing pink and looking pretty good in it. For me personally it remains at the very bottom of the favorite colors list.

So what's with all this “pink think”? A friend in Canada pointed me to a story from back at the beginning of the school year. Two seniors at a high school in Nova Scotia heard that a 9th grader had been harassed early in the school year because he wore a pink shirt to school. A group of bullies decided to give this young man a very hard time, just because they didn't like the color of shirt he chose that day. Those two seniors (David Shepard and Travis Price) decided they couldn't let that slide. They went out and bought about 50 pink shirts at a discount store, got in touch with all their friends and asked them to wear the shirts as a protest against bullying.

What happened was astounding. All 50 shirts were claimed. Dozens of other students came dressed in their own pink shirts, dyed their hair pink, rode to school on pink bicycles. One male student bought a pink dress and wore it to school, another was dressed in pink from head to toe. The original bullied student was stunned by the support he saw when he walked into school that day by all accounts. They described the scene as a “sea of pink”.

The story doesn't end there. Within days other schools in Nova Scotia picked up the idea and hundreds of students came to their schools in pink. It's become a symbol for the desire of the young people to have peaceful schools.

So what does this have to do with youth ministry in western New York? I think they're a great role model for the young people of our diocese. They didn't wait till their parents or youth leaders or clergy or teachers or some rock star told them to do something. These young people saw injustice, refused to accept it and stepped forward to take a stand against it. David Shepard has a great quote “I’ve stood around too long and I wanted to do something “.

The challenge for the church is to make sure we're preparing our young people to look at the world prepared to change it.

The challenge for our young people is to have the courage to “wear pink”.


Monday, November 05, 2007

Thinking about Thinking

This was my column from the SEPTEMBER issue of our diocesan newspaper. Not sure how I missed posting it. I'll have the November column (I had no October one) later this week

I've been thinking about thinking. Our country has a long history of suspicion of people who “think too much”. Our current consumer culture works our emotions to insure that we DON'T think, just buy, buy, buy. In fact I believe that the current trend to create more and more rules, guidelines and standards is part of a movement to avoid thinking. Some folks simply want us to do as we are told, supposedly in the name of greater order, justice or truth. I think (oops, there's that word) we need to think about that.

One of the problems with that mindset is that it goes against what faith teaches us. Literally from the time of the disciples people have been frustrated because Jesus insisted on making us think. The most common examples are the parables.

Quick note on parables. A parable is a short story designed to teach a lesson. Parables have been around for a VERY long time. Jesus taught using parables at least 30 times. Despite the simplicity of the stories some (many, most?) of the parables have caused confusion. Over the years of reading I've come to the conclusion that being puzzling is part of the point. Not because Jesus was trying to hide things from us but because he wants us to think.

Some of them, like ones about sheep or farming or vineyards, can be confusing because I grew up in the suburbs and don't know anything about that stuff. But it's not just me. There are enough instances of the disciples coming back to Jesus asking for an explanation to help me feel not quite so stupid. Jesus used images that would have been pretty familiar to folks in that time and place. But he used them in ways that turned them on their heads, forcing his listeners, then and now, to look at them differently. One of the challenges we face is that we've heard some of these stories so many times (The Prodigal Son, The Good Samaritan as examples) that we're tempted to stop thinking about them. We know what they say, we don't have to think about them. Doing that means that we don't let them really sink in and affect our lives.

OK, now I'm just going to flat out steal from Jesus. In the Parable of the Leaven (you'll find it in chapter 13 of both Matthew and Luke) Jesus talks about a little bit of something simple getting mixed in with the everyday stuff and helping it grow. If you don't mix the leaven (leaven is a bit of bread dough that's been allowed to ferment. It was used to help bread expand when baked) you'll get a little bit of surface change but not much else. Thinking is the mixing in of that little bit of something to change the whole thing. Thinking takes you to questions like “What does that really mean?” and “How does/should that effect me?”. It can take you to some uncomfortable places but it will help avoid even worse ones.

Thinking is a great gift from God. Like all gifts it needs to be treated carefully. Clearly God wants us to exercise that gift. That's why Jesus didn't just hand us a new set of standards, guidelines and rules. He told us stories. Stories designed to make us think.