Monday, August 27, 2007

Football Season

Well, Hokie football starts back up this weekend, and Debbie and I will be heading to Blacksburg for the ECU game. Even thought the Hokies are predicted to be one of the better teams in the ACC and the country this year, my thoughts are unfortunately on other things. This will be my first trip back to campus since the attacks in April, and quite frankly I've put the emotions of that day somewhere where I don't have to think about it. We're going to get into town early enought to walk by Norris and the new memorial and I anticipate losing it. I addition, the brightest star in the Hokie football universe seriously flamed out and came back to earth this year, with Michael Vick pleading guilty to running a dog fighting ring today and soon heading off to prison for 12-18 months. Looking out at those kids every week this year will be very different this year, and I think college football will be a bit less of an escape for me. The football players lost friends and classmates this year, and have said they feel like they're playing will help the healing of the university and community in some small way. I'll be thankful for and mindful of all the students and student-athletes that are still around - life is fragile. At the same time, these guys running around making big plays - enthusastically enjoying and exhibiting their skills and entertaining me and thousands of fans - well they're human. Most of them will end up being ordinary Joes - teachers, business people, farmers, engineers - and hopefully good citizens. Some may continue to be athletes and heros - and hopefully good people. And some will end up making terrible choices for their lives.

In preparation for the season, I'm reading What it means to be a Hokie, which my buddy Andy gave me for my birthday, and just finished Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer. In RJYH, the author basically lives my dream. He takes a leave from his job and follows his favorite team (in his case Alabama for the 1999 football season) around for the season, exploring the phenomena of college football RV'ing and fan culture. It was a really entertaining book that I highly suggest for college football fans. The first couple of weeks, he hitches a ride with a couple with an RV, and then he buys his own beater for the last part of the season. He encounters a man who goes to all the games even though he'll get bumped from the heart transplant list if he gets caught more than 2 hours from Nashville, a couple who misses their daughter's wedding because it coincides with a Tide game, and a minister who has a TV on the pulpit while he performs weddings during football season. He experiences the ugly side of sports (from inhospitable home fans to racism from a fellow Bama fan). One season I hope to follow the Hokies around in an RV and visit the cathedrals of college football (and tailgating) on the bye weeks (Michigan, Tennessee, LSU, Ole Miss, Florida/Georgia Game).

Friday, August 24, 2007

How are we to be set apart?

I just finished a book called Colossians Remixed. I had wanted to read it for a while, and it was pretty good. The basic idea is to imagine what Colossians would read like in a current, post-modern, pluralistic setting. The authors purport that Paul was largely explaining to the church in Colossae how they should be different than the dominant culture of the day, the Roman Empire, and if he wrote it today, it would be encouraging churches to reject global capitalism. They even rewrote much of the book in this light. It was pretty good and thought provoking, but also pretty extreme at points. It did have interesting thoughts about what is meaningful to people in post-modern culture, and how Christians can have an impact on this culture.
It made me think, if the church is called to be set-apart, how it should be set apart from the culture we live in today. If we are to be the light of the world, how can we lead and demonstrate what God's kingdom should look like. According to Colossians remixed, we should be leading the way in environmentalism, fair trade initiatives, social justice issues, etc.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Tough Day

Yesterday was a tough day for us. It was the our last Sunday at the church that's been our home for a long time. It was particularly difficult at the youth pool party last night, since we've been involved with those kids for so many years, and they've seen so much turnover in leadership. While we leave hurt and with unmet expectations, the community has given us so incredibly much over the years (I have been there 7 years, Debbie 5; she was on staff the whole 5 years) I thought I'd take some time to write down some of the things it has meant to me.
  • I met my wife there. I was thinking about the first time I met her yesterday. I was dating someone else, but my immediate thought was "That's the type of person I'm supposed to be with." I ignored that feeling for a few years, but eventually it surfaced and won out. We forged a friendship in between services (she worked with the kids at the early service and I at the late service) and eventually started dating.

  • We decided to get married there, even thought it's not the most pictureque place in the world. It is a place that meant the world to us, and we wanted our friends and family to be able to experience that on our very special day.

  • It changed my life. I've gone to church my entire life, but church was a hollow experence for me until I walked into this church 7 years ago. My inital thought was that it was a cult because people were too friendly, but I think we just loved each other so much it showed through. I remember the pastor's first words that first Sunday(it was just before election day 2000): "As your pastor, I'm here to tell you how to vote. You go into the booth and take the pen, select your candidates, ..." I had been ill for a few years and out of church, but in retrospect that was a blessing God gave me to prepare me for the next step. I found a place and a group of people where I could be myself and learn about my place in creation. I was "saved" by any reasonable church definition (whatever that is worth), but my life started to show some signs of God's presence over the next few years.

  • I learned about ministry. I mowed the grass for 6 years, taught in the children's ministry for 3, played guitar in the band for almost 4, led a small group for 1, worked with youth a year and a half, helped organize the single adults group, worked at Vacation Bible School, and our Christmas event for several years, etc. Not bad for a guy who really doesn't like church.

  • I made great friends. One of my best friends told me that she knew we needed to be friends the first day we met there. She and her husband and I were in a small group together for over 3 years, and they are still very dear to me. I can't tell you how many more good friends we made there, and will carry with us wherever we go. These are people I share my soul with, not people who I hide my soul from, which was my previous experience with religion.

  • I got to stretch my musical muscles. I've been a musician since 3rd grade, when I started playing piano, but had never done much with my guitar playing and hadn't really done anything organized musically since college. I grew so much as a guitarist over those years and it really reminded me how much I love to play. I got to play with many musicians that were much, much better than me, and some musicians that maybe weren't quite as good as me, but it all came together beautifully. (Playing in a band is such a great model for discipleship.)

  • I learned about community. I was in 2 great small groups, and in each made great connections with people and really started to see glimpses of how I believe God wants us to live in community. (Once many friends.)

  • I started to hear God's call in my own life. I'm still listening, but I think he's got big plans for us. All of us. (You too.)

So, while I go forward with heart broken, I also go forward with a richer, more meaningful life full of hope. I pray with all my might that we find something great (in a mustard seed kind of way) to be a part of in our next step, whatever that might be. I also pray for our old church, that it can continue to minister in the face of a lot of difficulty and be a place for the next person to walk through the door. And for that person, that he or she find what God would have them find and be able stand as a life transformed by the work of Christ Jesus.
Peace, C.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Mastering the Art of Living

It seems most of my friends are struggling with their faith. They’re Mad at God or church or a specific person, or just confused by the bible, or just don't buy the whole deal. It's a struggle for me because I'm ready to go. One of my good friends made a comment the other night that churches just want to get you saved and then don't care about what you become afterwards. I disagree with the generalization, but often American Evangelical churches will be focused on getting people in and not helping them grow. I think that's a mistake, because I'm learning faith is less about what you believe and more about what you do.
It made me think of my favorite Rob Bell sermon series, Mastering the Art of Living. It's a 15 sermon series from 2004, based on John 10:10 and the idea that Jesus came so that we could live the best possible life. Jesus taught the disciples, and in turn us, how to live the best possible way. The picture he paints is a martial arts student becoming a black belt by closely watching and imitating everything his master does.
Anyway, Debbie had asked me to make her some CDs of Rob Bell sermons for her to listen to in the car, so I copied this series. Since she listened to them, I decided to revisit the series. I thought a good way to help me remember what I learned was to write the title or theme of the sermon with a few of the key Bible passages (since Bell generally uses many passages in each sermon). Sermon #10 is my favorite, followed by #2. #11 is a mess of a sermon, but end up having a great point (and relevant to my first point). You can download the sermon series here.

  1. Being present (in the present) Matthew 6:34

  2. Rhythm: Why we need the Sabbath Exodus 20:8-11, Mark 6:30-31

  3. Harnessing Desire: Here’s something you'll really love Matthew 13:44-46, Ephesians 4:28

  4. Do Christians have all the answers? John 8:31

  5. (be)Incarnation – God loves to show up dressed as people John 13:34-35, 1 Corinthians 12:27

  6. He is Here: Waking up to the presence of God John 5:17, Genesis 28:11-19

  7. Learning to Surrender: What happens when God fails? John11:1-6

  8. Loving ourselves (so we can love God and others) Matthew 22:36-40 Genesis 27:15-41

  9. Weak is the new strong Matthew 5:5

  10. All things are yours 1 Corinthians 3:21-23

  11. Religion is a shadow of the truth we're after John 14:6-7, Colossians 2:8

  12. Living in Tune (Community and generosity) Acts 2:42-47, John 17:23; Romans 12:16

  13. Celebrating Symbols Genesis 28:16-19; Matthew 26:26-29

  14. God is bigger than your bucket Luke 9:49-50

  15. Grace pays the bill Luke 15

The next series I want to review is Jesus Wants to Save Christians. (Google is great – isn’t the picture I found awesome!)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

"Batchin' It"

So, when I saw my friend Todd last week (a bunch of us went to the John Mayer concert), the first thing he said was "So, how's batchin' it?" I din't know that there was a verb "to batch" or that it meant "to live as a single male", but Todd is younger and hipper than me, so I'll trust him.
Well, since then, lots of people have been asking me how I'm doing, if I'm eating okay, etc. People seem to forget I've been married for just over 2 years, after 35 years of taking care of myself. I'm the cook more often than not (although we eat out a lot more than either of us did when we were single). In a lot of ways, we're still in an adjustment period and these weeks have felt a lot more normal to me than having someone around all the time. I've missed Debbie a lot, but I've been trying to use my 2 weeks wisely. I got the new MacBook mostly set-up and started to clean up and organize the office area (including setting up my guitars so I have a place to play). I have tried to eat Mexican food once a day (I'm probably at 80%), since she doesn't like it as much as I do (which is an awful lot). I put movies that I knew she wouldn't want to watch at the top of my netflix list. I've been able to pray for her trip every day. I've spent some time blogging and cleaning up my e-mail in box. We've had 3 softball practices, so that's taken up some time as well (Debbie's arm will be sore for our first game on Tuesday!). I've met twice with Les, one of my spiritual guru's (once for Mexican!).
So, I've been keeping busy and doing fine. But, I can't wait until she gets back Friday night!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Kingdom Thoughts

I've been thinking about the Kingdom of God a lot this week and I've come to the following conclusions. The Kingdom of God is like a famous evangelist who gets half the town to put his bumper sticker on their cars. It's like an old NBA basketball arena that's packed full for 3 services on Sunday morning. It's like a well articulated vision that resonates with a bunch of people.

A couple of years ago, while I was in a small group that was doing some spiritual disciplines type stuff. I decided one week I would read the Gospels and Acts, straight through - like a story, rather than studying and dissecting it. I decided to read it in the Message, a modern paraphrase of the bible (not a strict translation). It was a really great experience, it's crazy I had never done before. I was struck by a lot of things: I thought Acts was compelling but weird, John was really weird and quite different than the other Gospels. But what struck me most was the talk of the Kingdom. It was the central idea in almost everything Jesus said, but it was a concept I had never really thought about before. Most of what he said or did was linked to the Kingdom of God (or Heaven, which is the word used in Matthew). I got the idea then that the Kingdom was different than what I thought Jesus mostly talked about. Maybe it was more than somewhere you went after you died or something that would be manifest after some sort of apocalypse. He talked about it being close, or arrived, or within us. (In lieu of a book review, I'll just say I just finished Brian McLaren's most recent book, where this is the main subject. It was pretty good.)

He also described the Kingdom of God by telling parables of small things: mustard seeds, yeast, a lost coin. These small things had something in common: they could make a big difference. I've been obsessed with this concept for about half a year now, ever since I wrote my "inspirational speech" for my leadership development class. Maybe because I'm so bad at these things, God is trying to point out what I need to work on. This weekend I was on a secret mission to spot the Kingdom of God. Here is my list of sightings:

  • Fresh homemade salsa.

  • Feeding my friends' infant nephew while having a post-dinner talk about life and such.

  • A struggling single mom sharing her amazing story with her church family (I was lucky enough to be visiting).

  • A one-year old's birthday party with a bunch of friends.

  • A friend calling me because he had good news and wanted to share it with me.

  • A late night walk with the dogs. (It's been insanely hot, so we hadn't been on a walk for 3 days, so the dogs were quite excited. Especially Pretzel, who lives for walks; she was really soaking it all in.)

I guess at this point, it is obvious the first paragraph was facetious. I think we really get caught up in the wrong things sometimes, looking to do grand things to further God's will. I'm trying to look for opportunities that aren't quite as grand, where I can make a small difference and let God do the heavy lifting.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Environmental Thoughts

As I journey through life, I'm beginning to think that faith is less about what you believe and more about what you do. I'm really digging the book I'm reading, Colossians Remixed. There is a section that gives a fictionalized account of the "testimony" of Nympha, a lady mentioned briefly in the book as the host of a home church. It gave a beautiful account of how the early church may have functioned and also a beuatiful account of how a community of faith could function. A lot of it was the about how they struggled with what to believe but were excellent at how to live.
Anyway, after reading Serve God, Save the Planet (See review below) and listening to Mars Hill's latest sermon series God is Green (author Matthew Sleeth actually deliverd one of the 5 messages), I've been thinking a lot about how I want to live in harmony with God's creation. It's very hip to be environmental right now with Live Earth and Al Gore's movie (once again the rocks are crying out), and the fate of our planet may be dire, but that doesn't change the fact that we should be good stewards of the home God has given us. My parents have always been careful with their resources, probably from growing up on farms, and I have traditionally been interested in environmental causes, but I fear I've fallen in line with the rest of my North American neighbors in consuming too much.
Every year, I sit down and come up with a financial plan in order to be a good steward of what God has blessed us with. It's more a list of goals than a strategy of how to get there, but I've always been able to meet most of them. My priorites have changed since getting married, but we've still been able to do really well. Goals are set in areas such as paying down debt, saving, and giving to the church and other organizations.
This year, I'd like to set environmental goals. Since Debbie is in England, I haven't discussed them with her yet, but here is a propsed list of goals fo 2008:
  • Increase car pooling. Since I live closer to work, I've got several opportunites to car pool and have been utilizing them some. I'd like to car pool 50% of the time next year.
  • Change all possible incandescent bulbs to compact florescent.
  • Put a power switch on our TV and stero so we can cut down on phantom power draw.
  • Since we hope to redo our kithcen, buy a new refridgerator/freezer where the ice maker can be cut off when not in use (vacaction stop button). One of the major draws in a home is the ice maker, which keeps the cooling coils chilled even when it is not making ice.
  • Cook and eat one vegetarian meal at home each week.
  • Bike to the Food Lion/Ace Hardware when we only need a few items.
  • Plant a small garden (peppers, tomatoes, squash).
  • Check the tire inflation on both cars monthly.

All of these are pretty small, but they can add up and make a difference. One of my favorite ideas in the Bible is that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. Little things matter in really big ways (another post is brewing about this concept). For instance, if everyone in the US kept their tires properly inflated, gas mileage would increase so that the country would save the gas equal to taking 1 million cars off the road.