Reflecting on Christmas Post 1

The year was 1986 when I opened up my favorite childhood toy – it was the Transformer Optimus Prime. I opened up the next box and it was Megatron. Then my relatives showed up and I got Bumblebee, Starscream, Shockwave (the Decepticon cassette player) and Mirage (he was the race car who could become invisible). Those were the days.  But before you think I was an extremely spoiled kid, here’s a good time to insert that my birthday is Christmas Eve (it’s pretty much the cleft palate of birthdays but to date, there is no corrective surgery). Double presents was the only redeeming thing about this day. Anyway, my mom had called my aunts and they coordinated the presents. it was the most organized middle-eastern execution of any idea to date. I’m not kidding.

Christmas seemed to suck each year after that. Because my parents are terrible liars, I knew the truth about Santa from an early age. So when you stop enjoying toys and you can’t eat candy canes because your dad is a dentist, Christmas becomes a real long Church Cantata service that you are required to go to on your birthday. Being a smart kid growing up in the Back to the Future era, I started requesting a DeLorean time machine to take me back to 1986.

Throughout my teen years, Christmas became among the many times that I really tried to connect with my faith. Combined with being blessed with a great family, it really was my favorite time of year although it had changed so much. Then in college, I enjoyed it even more. Being a religion major, I was gaining a better understanding of its theological significance but it was more because of the family event we created.

The flip side was that I became kinda snobby about all the superficial extras that surrounded Christmas. The tacky lights, drunk Santas, the commercialization, I wanted to kick an elf. I even stopped listening to Christmas music. I knew everyone had Christmas all wrong, I just didn’t know how wrong I had it too.

I enter Christmas time differently these days. For starters, I now call it Advent. And while I can list quite a number of things that I love about the meaning of our Savior’s coming, these days I am most moved by Jesus’ humanity. Not just that he would humble himself and become a defenseless baby, but that he would become human to begin with. Don’t think for a moment that the Sovereign Creator becoming an infant is lost on me, I have two children under the age of two sleeping upstairs and the youngest is about to turn 8 weeks. Some of us could never imagine leaving our part of the country and living in a state say, like West Virginia. Some of us could never live abroad. Imagine leaving heaven to live on this rock of dirt over a population that would painfully reject you and only a few would truly love you and you knew this the whole time.

Here is where the humanity really moves me and I know that I will not be able to adequately describe this. but here’s my best shot.  I cannot imagine the anxiety that Jesus walked around with. Each day moving closer to his death, each day experiencing the trials and ordeals of human life. It’s no wonder that he routinely prays and weeps over Jerusalem and cries over Lazarus. He understands all sides of the pain. This brings me to my favorite part of the celebration. Every so often, you get the pleasure of being the person who brings good news. You get to be the one to encourage people, touch people, maybe even be a part of what brings joy to others. I like to imagine the feeling he had of knowing that he was the embodiment of hope, the hope for you and me, the hope for all of creation. This is among the many gifts of Christmas – that he would come and dwell among us – that He would want to be our Emmanuel.

Monday Morning Update – 10.23.09

What I’ve Been Up To:
Just got back from our seminary retreat with Brian McLaren.  As I regard his work as an important influence in my life, I had expectations that I could not ignore.  I also hoped that my fellow seminarians would appreciate Brian as well.  Sort of like when you bring your girlfriend home to meet your family, you want them to like her but  but since she’s special, you’re not going to care that they don’t.  Turns out they liked Brian.  Anyway, he shared a lot about prayer and in doing so, I think revealed a great deal about the character of God, the human heart contained in Scripture and quite a bit about our human souls deal with pain and wonder.  Still processing through.

What I’ve Been Reading:
Just finished the audiobook of Outliers by Malcom Galdwell.  Very interesting in the very good  way.  Leaves you with the thought, “That’s great, wow, what should I do I now though?”  Very  good book, highly recommend it.
Still reading The Justice Project.  It’s not one to breeze through because I am really hoping to  absorb enough to live out and communicate effectively.
Rereading some assigned Karl Barth (I am so ridiculously behind for my independent study paper.)
Generate Magazine (loving it, you should subscribe), the new Relevant with Jon Foreman on the cover.

What Music I’ve Been Listening to:
Jenny Lewis’ Acid Tongue at the moment (crazy album).
Sufjan – BQE, (even some of his Christmas)
Welcome Wagon – yep, Thomas Turner’s article in Generate has compelled me once again.  I like his idea of church and the importance of the spiritual body but also the importance of a physical space where community can be enjoyed.
Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde
and the usual podcasts.

What’s Going on in our Student Ministry:
I’ve been so grateful for our youth leaders leading the teaching in my absence.  We certainly have a good thing going here and they are a big part of that.  While there are areas that we need to work on, I don’t see how anyone can say that they come in to our space and not be cared for.
A lot of Invisible Children things going on.  Our students have started a couple clubs in their schools, started some fundraising and one group was able to host a screening in a school assembly for grades 10-12.
We are beginning to work on a benefit concert for late January.
I’m working on our Winter Retreat and looking forward to teaching again after Thanksgiving.

What I’m Looking Forward To:
Thanksgiving Day with the family.
Our next Second Mile service on December 19th
The time of Advent

What I've Been Doing – 11.9.09

What I’ve Been Enjoying:

1. Our new baby Dylan. Susan is recovering well, her parents have been extremely helpful, and our one year old Nathan is enjoying being a big brother most of the time.  I won’t get into anything deep like the previous post (thansk for the loving words by the way) but I’m still pretty high on life right now.  My observations on Dylan so far are: 1. Light brown/reddish hair?  Holy recessive genes Batman, didn’t see that coming.  2. He doesn’t cry as much as the first one did (we still love you, just pointing out observations).  Seriously, though it’s only been 2 weeks (and too early to tell), Dylan seems to be a fairly peaceful kid.  3. He likes me.  Of course he loves Susan but everyone does.  And he has to love her, she feeds him.  The dad on the other hand, has always been optional.  If it weren’t for my athleticism (Nathan is mesmerized by how far I can throw those toy balls) and baby-bathing skills, I’m not sure if my relationship with Nathan would be as close as it is.  Dylan seems to be calmed by my voice and my charm.  So far, so good.

2. Yankees win the World Series!  What can I say – it’s a good year when your favorite baseball team wins the world series the week after a son is born.  Because I’m a good youth pastor, I cancelled sr. high youth group so that we could watch Game 6 together.  I’m so glad I did that.  Community is gained by going through storms together, studying Scripture, interceding for one another, serving on mission trips and cleaning up food pantries.  Community is also created in watching the Yanks bring home their 27th championship.

Got to enjoy the World Series parade too.  I went with my favorite student Jake ;-) and favorite church member, Dave. We made it to about 2-3 blocks from city hall and stopped to watch on this screen with a couple thousand people.  It was great to be out in the sunny, cool fall day with my fellow brothers and sisters in the Yankees.

What I’ve Been Reading –

For school –

– Religious No More by Mark Baker.  While I wasn’t crazy about the beginning of it, I loved the middle and conclusion.  We have book debates set up for class and my group has to defend the major themes of it.  It’s a good book to defend, I’m looking forward to it.

– A couple of commentaries on Galatians. One by Richard Hays (New Interpreters) and another by Martin Luther.  Hays isfantastic and I find it to be very helpful in seeing new things in Paul’s work and thought.  I am not enjoying Luther’s as much because for one, be raised an evangelical, I find it to be very familiar and two, he doesn’t really engage the text from a commentator’s perspective; he preaches it.  I don’t want sound trite in that and I regard Luther as an extremely important figure in the history of the church but his commentary isn’t as incredible ;-)

– The Justice Project edited by Brian McLaren.  It’s a book about condensing God’s goodness into a few basic sound bytes with Scripture verses, easy to memorize that sit on a train … and if you get stuck, you can consult your bracelet … oh wait, that’s how we have diluted the gospel and the ruined idea of evangelism.  I just started this book but I am among the many who see justice as an ignored or marginalized aspect in the mission of the church.  The Scriptures are very emphatic on the role that justice needs to play in the life of the believer.  Looking forward to reading and using the ideas of the book.  Lastly, I think our “evangelism” would make a bit more sense if the church was interested in pursuing justice.  More to say on that one day.

What I’ve Been Listening to:

– Homebrewed Christianity podcast with Harvey Cox and Phillip Clayton.  I need to listen to it again but what I heard I really liked.  Unfortunately I was listening at the gym and I found myself hating how fatigued I was started tuning out the stimulating conversation.  Soon after I started playing Coldplay (because it  just makes you feel better).

– Relevant Magazine Podcast – always excellent, always funny, and probably the best thing about Orlando.

– Mars Hill Audio Journal – Before there were podcasts, this was an audio journal hosted by Ken Myers (who used to work for NPR).  He interviews academics. It’s nerdy, it’s good, and it’s the closest I plan on getting to Stanley Fish and Scott Moore (not that there’s anything wrong with them). I listened to issue 97 and particularly enjoyed the interview with Scott Moore who talked about how our patriotism may conflict with our faith and with artist-writer Makoto Fujimura whose name comes up in countless conversations.

– New Sufjan Stevens – BQE.  Still need to see the documentary.  It’s a soundtrack (think symphony not Garden State) about a road (think the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, not the Parkway) by one of the most talented people of our era (think Sufjan, not Zach Braff ;-)

What I’ve Been Watching on Television – Now that the baseball season is over, it’s just football on Sundays and Mondays and Office and Community on Thursdays.  Don’t recommend any new shows for me, this will be a welcomed time until Lost begins.

What I’m Looking Forward to:

1. David Crowder Band concert at the Bowery Ballroom this week

2. Second Mile service.  It will be our second.  It will focus on the topic and holiday of Thanksgiving, suffering, community, and how does a Christian reconcile all of this. Can a Christian be thankful when so many are suffering?  How does a Christian be thankful if they are void of community?  And would Jesus have eaten turkey on the last Thursday of November?  If so, with who, where, and with or without gravy?These are important matters for an important time.

3. Seminary Retreat with Brian McLaren.  Reason no. 167 why you should consider attending Biblical Seminary

Our new son, Dylan Zachary

Born 10.26 @ 10.51 am
8lbs. 6oz. 20in.
Susan is doing great after her c-section.
Big brother Nathan is excited (at least for now ;-)
And all is good.
Thanks for your prayers and kindness.

What if Michael Jackson Was an Iranian?

It’s the second week of the “aftermath” of the death of Michael Jackson. Similar to the Anna Nicole saga, you get more and more disturbed of the details that are uncovered. Of course, part of this is the job of television, to take something, twist it enough to make you say, “Wow, that’s unbelievable! That’s crazy!” In fact, every time we get into one of these around the clock coverage breaking news obsession times, I think of Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. He argues that the news does not serve to inform us but to entertain us long enough to pay attention to their sponsors. He says a bit more but that’s the one sentence executive summary (*wink* at Biblical Seminary people).

Some of my friends and I have lamented that since Jackson died, Iran has gone missing.  Maybe it has all been resolved or perhaps they were so moved by the King of Pop’s untimely death that their hearts were so broken that they mutually decided to set aside their differences and mourn with the rest of the world and continue discussion at a later time. In a united statement both “president” Ahmadinejad and the protesters said “In light of recent events in the entertainment world, we would like to take the focus off of ourselves and allow all of our attention to be focused on Michael Jackson.”

God only knows what is actually happening there. May He be near.

This leads me to wondering a few things.

What if Michael Jackson was an Iranian? My tongue-in-cheek argument is that regardless of nationality or language, Jackson would have been a super-star regardless where he was born. Just as the moon is universal so is the “moonwalk”. Second, what if an Iranian-born Michael had been killed as part of the Iranian conflict? The world would be in shock! I really wonder what would have happened next. Third, this crisis is prompting me to consider paying more attention to international artists. I know it’s cool to like international music, I’m just not into it. Aside from U2, Radiohead and Coldplay, and the euro-trash bands that emulate them, I never had the motivation. I have enough trouble keeping up with genres that I already like. But here’s my real point, if we are frustrated by our news outlets, perhaps we should consider artists. I know language would be an initial problem but the world is getting flatter, we could probably find out and get whatever we wanted.

If Jackson was Iranian, not only might we as Americans have liked him more, we might also care more about the injustices surrounding him. I wonder what else would be different today.

Monday Morning Brief – 5.18.09

What I enjoyed this week   1. Nathan started walking!  For a few weeks he’d take a step or two and then realized he could crawl faster.  But yesterday, he started to walk.  He’s so proud of himself too; he smiles and waves as he barrels around the house – it’s great.  2. I enjoyed our seminary retreat once again.  We went to the Harvey Cedars Christian Center at the Jersey shore.  Though we were missing a few friends, I think we all appreciated the speaker, Meredith Wheeler (don’t be fooled by the first name, he’s a guy).  Also enjoyed spending time with our cohort and getting to know people from other ones.  3. Rooming with Jon Frost.  He knows baseball, reads Karl Barth and I drifted off to sleep as this pastor of alternative worship sang all of Crowder’s ballads on A Beautiful Collision.  Woke up to him screaming, “You are my …JOOOOYYYY”.   4. The Yankees winning some close ones. 

Student Ministry Update – 1. Finished up with the Dan Kimball They Like Jesus but not the Church study.  We received really solid feedback.  Next up is our series on love, dating sex, purity, identity, etc. called “Spring Fling”.  2. For years our sr. high girls wanted a retreat weekend. We always said yes but there was always a reason we couldn’t do it … until this weekend.  I say it a lot but probably not enough, I’m truly grateful for our leaders and great female leaders are hard to come by.  I know the “rewards of God” are not distributed in the means of parking spaces and sales at the mall, but may the Lord spoil them just a little along side His constant grace.  3.  There was also a guy’s night in at the home of long time youth leader extraordinaire Eric.  The rumor was that it was pizza, wings, and Christian beer (which since they are under-age, I am really hoping means root beer, otherwise, this post loses its “highlightness”). 

What I’ve Been Watching – 1. LOST Season Finale – Amazing but now it’s over.  So now I feel like I just broken up with.  I guess I’ll be listening to Dashboard Confessional until the new season. 2.  Haven’t yet watched the Office season finale.  I’ll get to it one of these months.  Feel free to spoil it for me (Pam accidentally kills John with a line drive right?), With the exception of a few episodes, this was a dissappointing season. 3. Saw Star Trek over the weekend with seminary friends.  I am not a Trekie so my expectations were pretty normal.  I liked the movie, you should see it.  I see the allure of Star Trek as it relies on science and theories.  I like the idea of the Federation and keeping the peace of the universe. However, it’s always lacked magic for me.  I know that’s a pretty subjective statement but Star Wars has the the Force, this ancient Jedi warrior culture and lovable characters like R2 and Chewey and menacing ones like Darth and Bobafett.  Lucas made many mistakes though.  He cursed us with JarJar, metachlorians, and Hayden Christensen (who is a lesson for all – just because you look cool, doesn’t mean you can act).  While I do like Spock, I always found Kirk to be weird and annoying.  It could be the curse of William Shattner but when I was 5, I liked him in TJ Hooker which was better known for Heather Locklear.  Anyway, I think between Shattner, a story that didn’t connect with me, and no offense, the Trekkies that I did know, umm, well, let’s just say that I thought the “light speed” scenes were cool.

What I am Listening to – Bob Dylan’s Together Through Life. 2. I downloaded Coldplay’s free live album, Left Right Left Right Left but only gave it a listen as we were driving to the shore for the retreat. 3. And pretty much everything Ben Gibbard.  Miguel loves Death Cab and Postal Service so I walked around all weekend singing, “So this is the new year … but I don’t feel any different.”

What’s Going in Seminary – just finished a great class called, “Jesus and His Message” and tomorrow we being a new class called “Organizational Assessment & Change”.

Looking forward to – going to the Yankees game tonight with Tim.  And going to Aruba with my whole family!!

How I "Plan" on Doing Book Reviews

Sometimes the book reviews I see on blogs leave me a little frustrated if they don’t contain enough opinion. Like the ones that say “review” but only give the Amazon summary from Publisher’s Weekly.   Then there are the posts that are so long that you think you might as well just get the book or bookmark the post and treat it as a cliff notes version of it.  There’s a couple other things that annoy me and I’m sure I do things that annoy others but here’s what I know:

I am not a scholar so I will not critique pretending to be one.  We’ve been trained by our seminaries and under-graduate programs to be more critical thinking than we actually are. But here in the big world of the internet, let’s be careful to who we think we are.  So, I’m not a book critic.  I’m a guy, offering an opinion that may or may not help you.

I will try to make them brief (or at least not to thick if they are not brief).

I will create context and stereotypes to keep them brief (this will frustrate some).  Be warned, I know they may not always be accurate.

I will do my best to be honest.

I will probably change this post several times.

Tom Sine’s Seminar – Post 5 – #nywc

Tom Sine – Where Is the Church Headed and What’s Our Response 


You probably should walk into this seminary with Tom Sine in a ready mode.  If you are having a rough time this may push you further over the edge –lol.  However,  depending on what you are upset about (like if you are upset with how the moms in your youth group are treating you) it may snap you out of it because you have new problems.


He’ll be giving this seminar on Monday morning and I highly recommend it if you are reading this and here in Pittsburgh..  There are a lot of notes below but here’s a bit of summary.  Things are changing, politically, socially, economically, etc.  Different generations are generations are interested in different things and different things are going to interest and un-interest them.  So, we will not be able to live as our parents lived – that track is gone. 

You may know by now that we younger Generation X’ers and Millennials, will be the first generation to make less income as our Boommer parents.  Generally we will not be living in some of the homes we grew up in.   Tom anticipated that the next two years will be difficult economically and only two years would be optimistic. 


(Though not at the moment), The industrial growth of China and India will raise the cost of oil to $300/barrel.  This will affect many things of commuter culture.  Even the idea of commuter culture or regional church will be fading out.  He also said on a side note that we won’t be building too many mega churches in the next 20 years. 


As youth workers or as people in our churches, we need to prepare people for change.  We should be teaching people stewardship, budgeting, lifestyle, warn against traps of materialism, greed, purpose.  The bigger theme was teaching our churches God’s dream as opposed to the American Dream. 


If you are interested, check out his book called the New Conspirators.


Walked in a little late but here are some of the notes I took


Crisis of Foresight

Long range planning in a time warp

Forecast how your community will look 5-10 years.

Who’s moving into the community?


Taking the future seriously in turbulent times

Leading with foresight

Anticipating new challenges

Creating new responses.


Housing markets

Examining the attitudes and behaviors of jr. highers as indicators ….

Culture shift

Waking up on a ship of fools headed into an economic hurricane. 


Future of the rich and super rich.

Future of middle class

Future of the global poor

Future of new majority world

Future of the planet


Life stewardship practices the democrization  of culture

Taste of wealthy lifestyle always dangled in front of middle class.

Future of the church & mission response


Shrinking church  – losing 20’s & 30’s year olds.

Retiring boomers mission funding crisis.


Join the Conversation.


Conversation 2

What are your creative ways to respond to new challenges:

In our lives?

In our churches?

In youth ministries?


We need to find ways to collaborate with others. – We need to get the church out of the building.


Good live of God versus the Good life of the American dream. 

Help people do budgeting.


Leading with discernment

Crisis of vision

Joining the new conspirators in taking the culture seriously

Engaging and critiquing modern and post-modern culture. 


Checking out high statues/extreme cool”

What does this have to do with following Jesus?

Markets of McWorld defining for people everywhere what is “good life & better future”


No 1 reason why Christina college students are not headed into missions is their parents are forbidding it.

            Because of the American dream

·      But I think also because boomer parents know to not believe in the church.

·      They are the ones on our trustee, elders, missions commission meetings cutting the funding to our missionaries.  Of course parents do not want their children to live as vulnerable like this. 

·      Become an accountant or a banker or a pharmacist so you can support yourself and then volunteer.

·      We can give our hearts away to God and the stranger, but not the vulnerability of our pockets.


A warning form the matrix – a reality being pull down over our head

A vision of the good life becoming the norm for our global village


Joining the new conspirators in taking the kingdom seriously

What are God’s purpose for a people and world?

Is. 65:17-19, 2:1-4, 25:6-9, 58:5-7. 35:1-7. 9:2-7


The good life cannot be obtained by pursuing anything in this world.

Only in the paradox of Christ can we find the good life 

            The good life of God is the life being given away. 


The major evangelism is the call to significance. 


Our worship music should reflect on how Jesus wants to change the world not


Joining Shane Claiborne in reimagining the kingdom,

Another world is possible

Another world is necessary

Another world is already here!

In the risen Christ, in communities, in shalom


Joining the new conspirators in living into creating into serving into collaborating into


Conversation 3

What is your response to:

The critique of the global mall in shaping our nations of the global life

In the suggestion that the good life of God is not found in seeking life but in losing life in service to God and others?


Joining the new conspirators in ….


Arrod mckenna – peace three community – this generation doe snot need more slick entrainment  – they long for space where their deepest questions can be discussed


One mustard seed a tat ime.


New Cons – calling us to authentic whole-life faith

Family loving on purpose through hospitality

Emerging leaders in the UK living on purpose by working only 30 hrs/wk to free up 20 hrs for mission

Nurturing a liturgy of life. 


Creating new counter-cultural communties of the kingdom

Small groups with a mission

Proximity communities with a mission

Resident communities with a mission

Temescal co-op, community, Oakland

Turba house Raleigh- durham US

Mustard Seed House/celtic monastic village

Creating new sustainable communities to both embody the kingdom of reduce costs


Creating new approaches to worship

Inviting eh young:

            To create new expressions of church

            To create a worship that connects profane culture and ancient liturgies

To create new missional worship


Creating US birthing centers fo new expressions

Forge –  Melbourne

Fresh expressions, UK

Launch Toronto

Reinventing youth ministry to launch the young

Urging all churches to invite the imagination and innovation fof teens 20- & 30- year olds.


Creating new celebrations of that world that is already here

Joining the new conspirators in partying the kingdom 24/7

Celebrating the world that is already here with Babetts’s Feast. 


Franke Installation Post 2 – Tim Keel – "Leadership, the Local Church and the Crisis of Imagination"

Tim is a very gifted-communicator who has great energy and comes across very likeable.  And so, many are surprised to discover that he is part of the emergent conversation.  Seriously, a needed message on imagination .  Here are the rough notes if interested.

Tim Keel – “Leadership, the Local Church and the Crisis of Imagination”

The most significant crisis that we may be facing is the Crisis of imagination.

imagination – the faculty or action of forming new ideas.

images or concepts not present to the senses.

you have the ability to see something that is not yet there.

Imagination is critical to leadership – especially if we are going to go some place we have never been. 

unfortunately our well has run dry.

Our leadership imagination has been domesticated (has been “tamed” as defined by the audience)

Maybe we have domesticated the Holy spirit which is the source of imagination.

However is it possible to domesticate the HS?

So is the Spirit still in the building?

Our modern enlightenment epistemology – 

truth and knowledge is always universal

leaders who are deeply imbedded in their context

they are seeing a God acting out in their place

we do not believe that God is active where we work and live – THUS we must go and find out where He is.

American pragmatism – (ministry titillation) – 2nd cousin to modern epistemology

Christian Century uses Jacob’s Well

Email of a person at “emerging” worship conference

Thomas merton passage

Jesus prayer of unity is an impossible …

Whenever we disagree with each other, we break fellowship

Bc in the west the worst sin is heresy

in the east churches, the worst sin is schism, breaking away.

in the absence of diversity we also lose imagination and create isolation.

imagination requires engagement

imagination requires hope

in place of modern commitments, many of us are understanding context, narrative

then we discover patterns of connectivity 

Joy, partnership to a different future.

Recapping our Service Project Weekend Post I

Sr. High Service Project Weekend was a good thing. I hesitate to use phrases like “great success” because of what that sort of language implies to me but it went very well. I really believe in the purpose of this weekend and look forward to doing more. Prior to my arrival at this church, each quarter the youth group went to some kind of camp which is fine and all but it seemed a little overplayed to me. Add that we have been trying to do service projects for the longest time but getting students to commit to the calendar was a difficult thing especially since we have weak culture of service. So as we have been trying to create a missional culture, we’ve also combined the idea of getting out of the area and doing service projects.

Last year we did various things in the New York City area like cleaned off the shelves at a soup kitchen in Harlem, helped with a children’s Halloween alternate activity at a church in Queens (while promoting the church’s health clinic!), put on a worship service at a Jewish nursing home (we told them we were Christians) and the Good Shepherd Home in Paterson.  This year we changed it up a bit.  So, here are some posts and thoughts.