Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Would winning the lottery really make my life better?

I wish I could speak with people like Glen Phillips, who wound up finding the popularity they craved, to see what they would say about the deception of their success. I can't find very many people who would even admit they lust for the spotlight, say nothing about those who actually attained what they were looking for. Vocational ministry, in my experience, was no different than any other career pursuit. You could not get away from the "job" aspect of getting paid for what you did. Maybe this is where I went wrong. How many of us really made decisions about that next position, not truly because "the Lord was calling," but because the salary was higher, the congregation was bigger, and our name would be more recognized? This is one thing that made vocational ministry difficult to reconcile. On the one hand, I longed to have impact, for my life to matter. On the other, I so wanted to gain attention in the eyes of men. In retrospect, I'm so glad none fo my songs or work ever got recognized, else I'd probably still be on the hamster wheel, chasing a pornographic idol called success. The freedom for me now is found in the absence of that dilemma. I can now live out my gifting and calling as a pastor and leader without feeling like I am using the ministry for personal gain. I admire my collegues who serve out of a clean heart and pure motive. May your tribes increase.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Curse of Popularity

One of my favorite musicians is Glen Phillips. On his blog profile he explains his early success with his music career and now his recovery from it. This led to me a thought that may bore you. The need for popularity seems to start pretty young. The phrase “popularity contest” emerges in junior high somewhere, used when kids feel like all the best-known students get picked first for everything. Teachers, coaches and other kids give the nod to ones who are more likeable, thus creating more of a craving for being one of those favored. It’s at this point a kid might make a subtle, probably unconscious choice. The craving for popularity begins its gnawing, so the kid begins to change, becoming someone else in order to fit in. The kid chooses activities that get recognized, never questioning whether or not he loves those activities or not. The main thing is the drug of being noticed is delivered and begins is soothing, numbing work. I wonder how many kids are in sports, play in the band, take certain classes, not because they like those things, but because they are in love with the idea of those things. These kids then grow into adults like me who get into their 40’s and start wondering what to do with their life. I’m not saying I regret the choices of life direction I made, but I do often wonder how life might be different had I not been seduced by a need to be popular. Would I have pursued other interests purely for the sake of enjoying them, without the ulterior motive of hoping they might get me recognized? You always hear bands make statements like this on VH1’s Behind the Music, "You’ve ghot to luv the mooosic, mahn. Its’ awl aboat the mooosic.” They come to these realizations after their fall from the spotlight. Were they in it because they loved making the music, or for what the music might get them? I think I needed to get out of vocational ministry because I stopped loving the music. I prostituted it for my own gain. I had in the back of my mind that it would take me somewhere, that it would make me popular. I needed a change to remind me what it meant to do something for the sheer pleasure of it. I think I’m getting there {could this be the topic for my best-seller?} Solomon said there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his life’s work and I couldn’t agree more. To have something you love doing, regardless of whether or not people think its great or not, is a great gift to possess.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

No thanks, Jesus. I don't drink

I'm not sure why I haven't thought of this before, but the whole grape juice at communion thing is starting to bother me. Could be just me and where I'm at. Maybe it doesn't even matter, but I've got some questions that don't have any answers right now. 1. Why did we (my tradition) start using grape juice in the first place? I can understand if there was not wine available, so to use what you had onhand was acceptable, but why all across the board? 2. Did we think that Jesus used only grape juice? I've witness a few textual gymnastic moves over the years to prove that he did, but his first miracle, after all, was to turn water to wine, really good wine (it seems), so its hard to believe the people at the party were happy about getting a few barrels of Welch's. People celebrate over a case of Caymus, not Juicy Juice. By the way, did people get drunk off that wine that Jesus made? Just curious. 3. What does using grape juice do to the symbol of communion? I would guess to most of my evangelical friends it wouldn't even cross their minds, but to me it cheapens the ordinance. As I said in my last post, we learn to prefer sweet over bitter, but I believe its in the bitter palatte that resides our most mature flavors and richest sensory experiences. Communion is not a sweet, easy experience, so to use grape juice takes something away from my senses as I receive it. Has fear of the symbolic cup led us to soften the intimate portrait of Christ's blood being shed?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Taste of Life

I love helping people learn new things. Its a deep sense of personal satisfacton to have someone tell me they liked something I wrote, having never thought of a particular idea in those terms. A good friend tells me he likes coffee now because I showed him the difference between bad coffee that most people settle for and the really good stuff that makes you want to be a poet. Life is like food. There are different experiences of taste that come our way. We know sweet memories and bitter ones. We have relatives we refer to as salty and relationships that have gone sour. I kid a fellow collegiate minister when we would get together for "coffee" on campus. He would order this skirt drink called a "Mt Fuji Snow." I couldn't tell you what was in it, but all I know is that it was sweet to the taste. Looking at my dark French Roast, he would ask, "How can you drink that stuff?" "I've learned how to enjoy it." I replied. To some, learning to enjoy coffee is like learning how to love eating tripe or kidney. If it doesn't come naturally, why bother? Sweet sensing taste buds are at the fore of the tongue. Sweet is most easily accessed and experienced. It's why babies love sugary treats. But bitter lies further back on the palate, and if we are not careful, we will miss its opportunity to deepen our tastes and our enjoyment of flavor that come through that sensory input. I wonder if this is why the church of my tradition prefers grape juice over real wine? In exchange for the blessing of the vine, have we settled for the drink of children?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Shopping at Starship Records and Tapes

Still thinking about the Ted Haggard bit, strongly believing that the Spirit is never caught off guard by these types of stories. Movie producers and novelists do this kind of thing all the time. Tension is allowed to enter the story. The drama that is created results in an opportunity for the hero to step forward, to think, improvise, to rise to the occasion. We need not hang our head at the onset of this kind of tension. A phrase has stuck in my craw this week after reading an article in Wine Spectator. The author was describing the enjoyment of wine as a "humanizing ritual" for him. He explained that the act of studying the wine, purchasing the bottle, letting it rest in the cellar, waiting for the right occasion, retrieving the bottle, dusting it off, lifting the cord (no screw tops, please) decanting and finally tasting. For him, there is pleasure in every step of this ritual. Through it he feels more human. I think he's on to something. Do simple little acts like this make us more human?
  • is this why I still prefer buying music at a music store than just downloading from iTunes?
  • is this why I like going into the bank and making a transaction with a teller, than via ATM?
  • is this why I plant a garden?
  • is this why I don't like going to the church as we know it? The anonymity, the sameness, the "please hurry and exit this door so the people waiting came come in and take your seat" leaves me feeling empty.
Did Ted lose touch with something of his humanity by the form of church that he helped create? Mega, monstrous, anonymous form that would not allow for his humaness to come forth and get help years ago. Thankfully, the Spirit is still kind and slow to anger.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Iron Pastor

I've been doing some thinking about this Ted Haggard story. For those of you who don't know, he was a well-known pastor in Colorado Springs who resigned this week over sexual immorality. Shock, outrage, disbelief. All are among a common set of responses that people, mainly Christian, have to this story. While I would probably fall into this category had I known the man personally, mine is a little bit different reaction. There is a rising phenomenon today, called the Celebrity Chef, that I find fascinating. Why on earth are we celebrating such a basic, common skill? Why have we elevated the ability to cook to rock star status? Here's my idea. Institutions need rock stars to survive. Hollywood knows this very well. They create them, and we let them. We set the rock star apart in our mind as special, as better than, as other. Is Rachel Ray really a better cook than your wife? Is Paula Deen any better than your grandmother? But Food Network is not going to put your wife or grandma on TV because they are ordinary, and nobody tunes into ordinary. This is why we crave the rock star. The church has done the same thing. It name drops all the time, just read the recommendations of any "Christian" book. "Max Lucado says about...." "Beth Moore writes..." "Henry Blackaby gives two thumbs up about...." Why do we do this? Its because you won't go to a conference with Ernest Goodman as the keynote speaker. Why? You have no idea who he is, even though he might have some really good things to say. But you will shell out the geet to hear Bill Hybels or Rick Warren tell you something you could probably come up on your own, if you gave yourself the benefit of the doubt and just believed that you're as smart as they are. Ted Haggard is just a dude like you and me, sits on the same kind of toilet you and I did this morning. But we've made men like him to be rock stars for us, then get pissed when they fail and we find out they are no different. Maybe incidents like this can remind us that the essense of ministry, like cooking, is a basic, simple skill for everyone. You don't need Iron Pastor.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

95 miles of orange Hot Wheels track

Probably the biggest pile I've had to go through was labeled "Discipline." I'd collected a ton of awards and trophies over the years, so there was quite a bit of personal attachment to these items. Among them were my "Never miss a day reading the Bible" plaque, the "Memorize a verse a day for the rest of your life" pin, a really nice "Pray for everyone and everything" binder. I found my "Save every sermon note from everything I've ever heard" certificate. I even came across the 3'x5' picture of me when I was poster boy for Discipline is the Key to Life Foundation. I was really proud of the accomplishments, which made it hard to go through all of them. One dilemma in asking myself if I really needed these things with me on the next leg of the journey came in the form of the question, "Why were these awards so important to me?" Everything has value, but value is based not on the item itself, but on the opinion of the one who is collecting the treasure. I love eBay. I buy and sell stuff there all the time. A few years ago, my Mom came up to visit and brought with her several boxes of stuff from my childhood. Comics, GI Joe, Matchbox cars and 95 miles of orange Hot Wheels track. My wife rolled her eyes, and I too, asked the same thing, "Where are we going to put this stuff?" To make a long story short, much of it sold on eBay. Why? Because to someone, the 1969 Sears Christmas Catalog (don't ask) was worth $37.50 because of the buyer, not the catalog. I was ready to toss it. My awards of discipline were important because I put worth on them. I thought they would make me look better in God's eyes, and my leaders. Now I see my value is place on me by the Ultimate Collector of Hearts.