Saturday, April 26, 2008

Dirty, Uncomfortable, and Awkward Work

Every now and then the church's office will receive a phone call from someone asking for help. This past week it was a call from two sisters with zero connection to the church needing to move their personal belongings out of a deteriorating mobile home and into a storage unit. Short the eighty bucks to cover the cost of the storage unit, and without access to a pick-up truck, they were pretty much desperate. Last week, Pastor Chris preached from James chapter 2:
15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

Chris pulled eighty bucks out the church's benevolent fund, relinquished the truck from his wife, and recruited my muscle. We met the sisters at a motel they were paying weekly rates until they could find permanent housing. We were supposed to drive over to the their old place of residence separately, but their ride was unavailable. So, the four of us drove the 20 miles together in the truck. The sisters shared openly about spousal abuse, divorces, car accidents, physical handicaps, loss of jobs, car break downs, psychological disorders, and financial ruin. Their collective stories were not overly embellished, but simply a window into their life experiences. The whole experience was completely out of the ordinary for Chris and I. Here we were, two guys that work at a church helping out two chain smoking sisters with bleached-out blond hair and blue eye-liner. We didn't know them and they didn't know us. We were from two completely different walks of life. It was dirty, uncomfortable, and awkward work; yet through it all there was a strong sense that what James was saying was being taken seriously and the church was being the church.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


I'm very much aware of the differences between the churches I have attended throughout high school and college and the church I now attend. For example, the churches I have attended in the past have been faith communities that have gathered in gymnasiums, warehouses, and storefronts. In terms of style of worship, "praise and worship" bands have been the norm, and it hasn't been uncommon to see people wearing sandals and T-shirts on a Sunday morning with coffee in hand. In most of these churches I would describe the worship experience as "informal," or to use a word I don't like at all: "contemporary." Although each of these churches had their unique identities, they would all be considered (conservative) evangelical churches. At the church I currently worship at (and work for) we sing hymns, and instead of a worship band we have an organist. We sit in pews and the choir wears robes and no coffee is allowed in the sanctuary. I guess you could say it's just a different way of worshiping--a more "traditional" style--or something.

But I'm also becoming more aware of other differences. Compared to the evangelical churches I grew accustomed to in high school and college, my current church, several generations ago, was part of the United Church of Christ (UCC). Although the formal affiliation with the UCC dissolved some time ago, the identity of the church I think still most closely resonates with what we might describe as Mainline Protestant. Besides styles of worship, here are some other differences I perceive to exist between evangelical churches and mainline churches: First of all, mainliners seem to be more dependant on clergy to perform certain rites. And I'm not talking about the sacraments or anything, I'm talking about praying over a meal. In my experience growing up in evangelical churches there seemed to be a more robust doctrine of the priesthood of all believers at work in the community. Secondly, mainliners are biblically illiterate. I'm sorry but I don't know how else to put it. Whereas most evangelical Christians would be happy to share their favorite book of the Bible, or recite their latest "memory verse," or tell you what N.I.V. stands for, many mainliners have little knowledge of scripture. Lastly, (and this is probably an obviouse one) mainliners have little ambition to tell others about their faith or their involvement with a faith community. I don't think most would know what it means to "witness" to a neighbor or co-worker, whereas many evangelicals would have handy a book mark with the "Romans Road" on it or something more clever like an evangicube. Ohhh evangicubes.... I guess I'm glad I know what those are.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Casper the Cannondale

I want to introduce Casper the Cannondale. Casper is an old school 14 speed road bike with a bum rear wheel that's missing a spoke. I've decided that automobiles are overrated and now I'm relying on peddle power whenever I can avoid driving. Today was my first ride into work (approximately 9 miles). It was sweet.

Any other proud peddlers out there?

Monday, April 21, 2008

This One's For You B-Will

I took these pictures of the Leftist Marching Band at the Portsmouth Sustainability Fair. If you don't understand the title of this post you didn't live on 6th West Ashton. I miss you boys.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Looking the Part

People tell me all the time that I look young for my age. And it's really not about me looking younger than I ought to, it's the fact that I'm recognized as a pastor, and pastors are supposed to look older I do. I simply don't fit their mold. To be honest, these kinds of remarks bother me. Today, after the service, I had a woman tell me that she still can't believe I'm really 23. I blew her off in the most pastorally way possible, but her words still linger in my ears. The truth is that for some people, my age (or at least my appearance) doesn't allow for my work at the church to be taken seriously. It's my vocational handicap.

After my encounter with the obtuse woman, I drove to a presentation on climate change at a neighboring church where I was introduced to pastor Michelle, a woman in her mid to late thirties. And then it hit me. Eventually I will grow out of my youthful appearance. Eventually I will get a few distinguished grey hairs and a few pronounced wrinkles. Some day I will fit the mold of pastor and forget these frustrations of my "early years". But Pastor Michelle may never in her lifetime know relief from the constant scrutiny derived from her gender and role as pastor.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Celebrity Bonds

Everybody has a celebrity bond. Perhaps you're a celebrity look-a-like, share the same name of someone famous, attended the same high school a movie actress did a generation earlier, or something else coincidental. Well, I just discovered a new celebrity bond for myself. My friends that appreciate Seattle professional sports will enjoy this one. Last night, while helping out with a middle school production of Grease, I met the daughters of former Seattle Mariners catcher Dan Wilson. Crazy, eh? Turns out the Wilson family moved from Seattle, WA to Rye, NH back in July 2007. And yeah, guess who else moved from Seattle to the seacoast of New Hampshire last summer... yup, you guessed it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Blood & Guts in the Bible

Last night I covered a Bible study class that my senior pastor usually teaches. He was going to be out of town so I happily agreed to teach the class. Then he told me the class was working through the book of Deuteronomy and that I could pick up where he had left off in chapter 7. I honestly don't know much about Deuteronomy and as I read through this seventh chapter I was slightly alarmed. The following is just a few verses that pretty much sum up the whole chapter:
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations… and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.”

Ouch! Nobody wants to teach from a text where God is portrayed as a merciless war monger. Fortunately, this particular text turned out to be a really great teachable moment for the class. A passage like this just goes to show why we need to know the whole biblical narrative and refrain from parceling out certain verses from their larger context. As a class, we talked about how this passage makes more sense considering there was good reason for no treaties to be made with other nations because it was Israel’s kings after all that were lead astray from God because of intermarriage and because they worshiped the God's of other nations. Moreover, we read a passage later on in Deuteronomy where God tells the Israelites to provide care for the alien within the covenant community. Connecting Deuteronomy 7 with the rest of the biblical story brings more to light. Difficult texts like Deuteronomy chapter 7 can be a bitter pill to swallow, but I like how they can also be very helpful in bringing us into a fuller understanding of the biblical story.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Happy Anniversary, Grandma!

Some of you know that my widowed grandmother remarried last spring on March 31st—my good friend Joey’s birthday. Well I’m happy to announce that Grandma Roz just recently celebrated her 1st wedding anniversary. They celebrated by taking a trip to Vegas. Check out the cool picture below. I find it a little strange that another woman is in the picture with them, but then again, it is Vegas… Happy anniversary, grandma!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

OK with Being Evangelical

I’m affiliated with a smaller denomination called the Evangelical Covenant Church. But I must admit that I shy away from using the word evangelical when describing my identity as a Christian. When I share that I am connected to a denomination with the word evangelical in the name, it’s always accompanied with a fear that people will get the wrong impression of me. In my opinion, the word evangelical for many is synonymous with the religious Right and organizations like the Christian Collation and controversial figures like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Without wanting to sound judgmental or condescending, let’s just say I would rather not claim the same label as these folks. However, as I’ve been reading Jim Wallis’ book, God’s Politics, I have been encouraged by the many distinctly evangelical organizations around today that have shown a deepening social conscience while avoiding some of the more negative stereotypes often associated with evangelicals, including my own denomination which receives special mention on page 83 of my paperback edition. Wallis writes: “Several conservative evangelical denominations, like the Evangelical Covenant Church, have now made the critical links between evangelism, compassion, and social justice.” I’m becoming more comfortable with my label.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Looking Back

Exactly 8 months ago today I moved to New Hampshire. Right now I’m trying to figure out what I think of this milestone. In some respects 8 months is a long time. By other standards 8 months deserves nothing more than a shoulder shrug. Regardless, the move out east has been a huge change in my life. Leaving the familiarities of life in Seattle and the many friendships created while in college has been very difficult. I never imagined the loneliness I would experience from saying good bye to my friends and family. Nevertheless, I have been thoroughly blessed to have come to this new world. By virtue of my work at a church, I inherited a whole community of people pledged to support and encourage me during my internship. On any given Sunday morning, wearing a clerical robe that I still don’t feel quite comfortable wearing, I see the pews full of beaming grandparents, smiling aunts and uncles, curious little cousins and new friends.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Labor of Love

Last week I visited a sugar shack. Prior to this I had no idea what a sugar shack was, so if you’re wondering right now what a sugar shack is don’t feel bad. A sugar shack is a small building where the sap from maple trees is magically transformed into delicious maple syrup. Alright, so it’s something short of magic, but I find the whole process of taking the life-blood of a tree and making it into the sweet stuff I put on my pancakes for breakfast absolutely fascinating. The process begins by taping maple trees and then collecting the sap into buckets that hang from the taps. Then the sap is poured into a metal basin called an evaporator. The evaporator sits on top of a giant wood burning stove and essentially boils down the sap until you have nothing left except the finest syrup you’ve ever tasted. What I find most fascinating about the whole process is the fact that it takes 40 gallons of sap to yield 1 gallon of syrup. It’s definitely a lot of sap and a lot of work for not a lot of syrup. No wonder practitioners of this trade call it a labor of love. If you have supplied me the courtesy of reading thus far you are probably wondering why I think anyone should share my fascination for maple syrup production. But I find maple syrup production to be a great example of how some things in life are worth our devotion despite the seemingly small return. For me this would be youth ministry. Sometimes I feel like all my lesson preparation, program planning, phone calls, and conversations over lunch bear little fruit in the end. However, like maple sap, when it’s all boiled down, the realization of lives being changed is very sweet.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Bounce Passes & Poodle Skirts

In the town of Rye, New Hampshire the old church in the center of Rye’s historical district is only a stone’s throw away from the Rye Junior High School. It has been my goal to be involved as much as possible at the school. Over the winter I filled a vacant spot to coach 7th & 8th grade boys basketball. In many respects, the very notion that I would even attempt to be a middle school basketball coach is hilarious. To begin with, I have never coached basketball. Secondly, I didn’t play organized basketball past the 8th grade (I got cut from the freshman team). Thirdly, I’m just not very good at basketball. But I wasn’t going to let this stop me. My team went 3-5 for the year including a buzzer-beating loss to a private school from Portsmouth. Overall, it was a great experience; I learned a lot and got my “in” with the school in Rye.

Last week I started helping out at the school in Rye again. For this next gig I have exchanged the whistle and clip-board for a script book. I’ve assumed the roles of back stage supervisor, set design assembler, video camera operator, and push the play button on the CD player guy for the school’s production of Grease. Again, like the coaching gig, I have no idea what I’m doing.