Friday, May 23, 2008

One *Consistent* Voice

In a political landscape where someone's method of counting the votes changes every month or so...where "I've listened to you and in the process I've found my voice" means simply that your voice changes state by state and moment by moment...where someone else can call a person an agent of intolerance one year, and seek their favor the next...I think there's one candidate whose voice has been consistent. What do you think?


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Move over, Iron Man...'s Fusion Man!

This is apparently real, folks. I can't decide if it's purely cool, or if I'm concerned about the waste of fuel...though I plan to jet ski Saturday, so I'm gonna go with "cool." Clearly, if I'm to take over the world, I must obtain one of these. Bwah-hah-hah!


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Day, all!

Happy Pentecost everybody - may God's Spirit be poured out on you or well up within you today...may it be a day of encouragement, empowerment, and blessing, so that you may bless, encourage, and empower others.

And hey, don't forget that it's Mother's Day! Hey mom - see you in about 14 hours!


Friday, May 9, 2008

Discipleship Emerging, pt. 3 - Chaplaincy

As I work through this job hunting process, my thoughts have done a lot of circling around what *type* of job to look for, as I've already written about (endlessly). A calling or vocation is not a calling to a job description. I feel like being a minister *is* who I am - or who I'm called to be/become. I also think all people are called to be ministers, in some way - and that for me, what it means to be a minister is that I'm a reminder-er - my role is to remind others that they are ministers. And, I guess, to support them and equip them as they go about ministry/service/working for the kingdom in their own spheres of influence. And to remind them they're not alone, and foster community and connection between the various spheres. And...well, that's enough!

So whatever job I have at any point, it doesn't have to be identical with my calling...but it does need to be consistent. I was becoming progressively troubled as a healthcare chaplain, because my primary understanding of my calling - reminding and equipping and building up - wasn't what I was spending most of my time doing. This, as much as frustration over paperwork and evil corporate greed and governmental waste, is why I'm not a chaplain right now.

Well, being laid off had something to do with it, too.

But I'd already decided I wouldn't stay more than another year. Really. some extent, volunteering at my church and with the college ministry while working in hospice as a 'day job' worked. But hospice isn't really the kind of thing you can do long term if you're not really passionate about it. And while it generally worked ok, sometimes it didn't leave much emotional energy for volunteering, even though that was the stuff I 'really' wanted to do. It was frustrating to know you were doing second-best at things that were most important to you. Meanwhile, I was trying to find ways to be who I am - a reminder-er (really need a better word!) and equipper, but thinking I really ought to be around people who were going to live long enough to do something with the insights they were having...

When the hospice job evaporated, I took that as my cue that it was time to shift to doing a job that was where my heart was - in the church.

My understanding of vocation may be shifting, by the way. I still agree and am passionate about what I've said - being a reminder, equipper, and community-builder. But there's another element that comes to the surface in the last few years, an element that working in hospitals and hospices has helped to crystallize, as well as reading literature from the emerging church, and my own Bible study.

I have seen too many men and women die feeling lonely and cut off from the church…too many people die without believing they are loved, or that God intended for them, for us all, to have lives of meaning and purpose - to know that we are of infinite value.

I have watched people die who never got to the point where they trusted that. At best, I could say that because of me and even more the nurse's aides, nurses, and social workers, they at least were *told* that they mattered. More, they saw people *acting* as if they mattered. That's something. For some of my patients, there was no one else in their lives telling them those things.

We all bear some responsibility for the lives we lead, and I'll grant you that many of those folks made choices that contributed to their isolation. But so what? We all fall short, and some of us only have bad choices to start with. The fact remains, whatever else, that often hospice was standing in the gap in solidarity with those patients when no one else was. Not family...not church.

(Not to say I didn't encounter many incredible and inspiring families, and churches, and a synagogue. Sometimes things - people - work out. Sometimes they don't.)

My dream is to be a part of a church community that is not content to leave those needs in other hands. My dream is to be a part of a church that believes Jesus meant it when he said that whatever we have done for the least of these - feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting the prisoners and the oppressed - whatever we have done for them, we have done for Christ.

And whatever we have not done for them, we have not done for Christ.

The fact is, the church is meant to be doing this work...and when we're doing it right, no one does it better. Can you imagine showing any more love and compassion and solidarity for the desperately poor of Calcutta than Mother Teresa did? She's a model for us. Christ is the model for us.

The hospice I worked for was a the end of the day, decisions about how we gave care were made with concern for the bottom line, and the value of the company's stock. The decision to eliminate a chaplain position - to go from having a full-time ministerial presence in the hospice house, to a chaplain visiting 10-15 hours a week (though I know he does 20 or more - go Tom!)...this was not a decision based on care for patients. Nor do I believe it was based on financial necessity. It was based on cutting corners...on not valuing spiritual care for the dying. Because the model of what we "had to provide" is set by industry standards of care, concocted to meet Medicare guidelines. Which is fine...but it's a different model than the model of Christ.

I's just business. In our culture, that excuses pretty much anything that isn't actively illegal. But...Amos 5:10-13, 15 should speak to our culture.
They hate him who reproves in the gate,
and they abhor him who speaks the truth.
Therefore because you trample on the poor
and you exact taxes of grain from him,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not dwell in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your transgressions
and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
and turn aside the needy in the gate.
Hate evil, and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

End of the day - I feel called, compelled, to find a way to minister to the lost and least, the overlooked and serve as a reminder that they are loved, that there is purpose and meaning for their lives, to help them find community. My dream...whatever my to be a part of a church community that embraces that, not as an occasional project, but as the meaning of our lives - the working out of our calling - the source of our joy.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Iron Man - Review

So I went to see the "Iron Man" movie Monday night, with Robert Downey Jr. as an inspired choice for Tony Stark (see Stark here in this picture from the comics - Downey looks just like him), Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, and Terrence Howard. Official synopsis, short version: "Billionaire industrialist Tony Stark builds a high-tech suit of armor and leads a double-life as the superhero, Iron Man." Don't click "Read More" if you don't want spoilers.

I liked it! I liked it a lot! No, it's not great literature, but it's a good move. Very well-cast actors with very good delivery from all (although Howard wasn't in enough of it to get a real sense of him...but I imagine he'll be much bigger in the sequel), a good strong story, great effects, good human interaction as well as great action sequences, plenty of humor...and I'd actually rate it a cut above the generic "yeah this was a good movie and I liked the popcorn too" flick. (That's the kind of movie you enjoy going to see at the movies but it has no deep impact and not much re-watchability.) The movie lightly but definitely asks some troubling questions about weapons development and war profiteering, and the role of U.S. or multi-national corporations in profiting off of weapons trade. (Did you know that, of 25 major conflicts going on in 1999, 20 of them had he U.S. supplying weapons to one or both sides? And that the U.S. creates and exports more than 50% of the world's weapons?)

Iron Man's a classic superhero. *You* might not know that, but he is. He's about 45 years old, contemporary with Spider-Man, Hulk, and the Fantastic Four. He's a founding member of the Avengers, alongside the Hulk, Thor, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and neo-founder Captain America. He, Thor, and Captain America are the Avengers "Big 3", and Iron Man is unquestionably one of the big guns of the Marvel Universe, in terms of power, smarts, and influence over other heroes. don't know who the Avengers are? They're equivalent in lots of ways to DC's Justice League. Marvel's Fantastic Four has more name recognition with non-comics fans than the Avengers, but in the comic universe, the Avengers are the premiere super-team.

So Iron Man's big. He's never had much name recognition outside the comics, but he's had his own action figures and appeared in cartoons and video games. Now, he's on the big screen, and doing well.

Doing very well! Robert Downey Jr. was an inspired choice, and not just because of his look. Iron Man's alter ego, Tony Stark, is a rich playboy who was probably the first superhero to be an alcoholic. Downey (oddly enough) is able to carry off the booze-swilling, womanizing, ultra-rich vibe perfectly - while still having lots of charm and likeability, somehow, just as Stark in the comics manages.

Speaking of the comics, it's nice to see the source material adapted (not slavishly copied) with such respect. Lots of *details* are changed, but everything "feels" right - they've nailed the spirit of Iron Man. A rich womanizer who nevertheless is likeable - and has a sense of responsibility for the common good, and definitely a sense of responsibility for how his inventions get used. The aspect of the plot where he was hunting down and destroying his weapons to prevent others from using them echos the classic "Armor Wars" storyline from the comics. There were lots of other little "Easter eggs" scattered throughout - stuff a comic geek would recognize and be excited about, but that weren't a) stupidly obvious, or b) obscure to non-comics folks. For example, the Asian/Middle-Eastern chr that kidnapped Stark was bent on taking over Asia, and headed an organization called "Ten Rings" - an obvious reference to classic Iron Man foe "the Mandarin", a Yellow Claw variant with ten rings that give him various powers. This guy was "just" a soldier-type, but he was pretty intense - and he seemed set up pretty clearly to be the (or at least "a") villain in the sequel. I think that guy's importance was clear to everyone - he just was a little more significant if you got the comic reference - which is the way it should be with a comic book movie.

Iron Monger was a good choice for villain in this movie. Superhero movies take note - you need a supervillain! Much as I love the original Superman movie *and* Superman Returns, both are marred by not really having real challenges for Superman - not like fighting Zod and co. in Superman II. The Hulk movie was like that, too...of course, that movie was flawed in dozens of other ways too, and the CGI Hulk looked retarded...Spider-Man and the X-Men made great transitions to the movie screen, and part of that was having good villains.

Anyway, Iron Monger was a good choice. Good, fun movie. Iron Man's sort of like James Bond amplified - better gadgets.

Make sure you watch the credits - there's a closing scene that'll excite you if you know enough!

And by the way...tons of comic inspired movies coming out this summer - including a sequel to the best Batman movie of all, Batman Begins, which should be great. And Marvel's announced a sequel to Iron Man already (told you), plus a "Thor" movie (for next summer)? and forthcoming "Captain America" and "Avengers" movies, too. And is the new Hulk movie coming out this year? The last one stunk, imo, but this one is (wisely) ignoring that one and starting from scratch, and Edward Norton is playing Dr. Banner (the Hulk's alter ego), which he should be great at! I hope this movie has some of the "heart" and substance that the old tv show with Bill Bixby did - he was great at communicating the pathos of Banner's Jekyll/Hyde situation. That show also showed the generally non-evil nature of the Hulk, having a creature of rage and destruction that was harmless if left alone...that's always been a part of the Hulk's tragedy, too. Hope the movie will capture some of that...and have better looking CGI!

Go see Iron Man!


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Way to go, North Carolina!

And phooey on you, Indiana. Silly people who don't agree with me...

In honor of the victory in this latest skirmish...well, it's really not in honor of it, it's just because a friend posted this on facebook, and I really shouldn''s definitely a guilty pleasure, and I shouldn't laugh at it...but I just can't resist sharing this video with you. If you're a Star Wars fan like me, you can't help but love it (though it'll also help if you're a Barack fan like me...).


Monday, May 5, 2008

Crazy, Beautiful

Some things are beautifully crazy...or crazily beautiful. Take this, for instance:

There was a news article I saw last year. It's a pretty amazing story but I kept forgetting to mention it. Luckily I was able to find it again on Google - I think I googled 'temple' and 'underground' and 'Italy'. Oh, and possibly 'crazy guy', but maybe not. Anyway, read the story. Go on, read it. And look at the pictures, which are the amazing part. Then come back here and click Read More.

I said READ THE ARTICLE! I gave you the link, so you don't even have to hunt it on Google like I did. You're so lazy. Fine, here it is again.

Now, aren't you glad you read it? Isn't that amazing?

I mean, from what I can tell - and I did some additional research, which you can find here - from what I can tell, the guy behind these "Temples of Damanhur" is nuttier than a fruitcake. (Which I apologize for saying, Damanhur folks - you've certainly accomplished far more in pursuit of your vision than I have in mine, and crafted beauty like I wouldn't have imagined. Sorry for the condescending-seeming tone here, too.) Fair warning - these folks seem very hippie-like, and believe in reincarnation and humanism and probably the age of aquarius and other stuff incompatible with my own worldview. They also, judging from their website, encourage things I can only applaud - ecological sustainability, volunteerism, community, creativity. It's the creativity of these underground temples which these folks have carved and created (pursuing visions that sound, to my cynical mind, like products of schizophrenia...though many folks in prior centuries believed that the mentally ill were touched by the divine. Hmm.) that really strikes me.

In my very first post on "Whistling in the Dark" I mentioned some of my techno-fears. We often talk about how much we've gained technologically, how much we can do that earlier times (or even folks a decade or two ago) couldn't dream of. That's very true, but do you ever wonder what we've lost? I sometimes do. I mean, we live in a technical wonderland which most of us don't understand at all. We're dependent on the expertise of others to keep our computers working, our cars running, our pipes unclogged. How many of us understand even the basic principles of the internal combustion engine, or computer programming, or plumbing?

How many of us still know how to bake bread?

How many of you that do, could bake bread without pre-packaged ingredients and specialized techno-gadgets in your kitchen?

How many of us could build a fire, minus a lighter or matches?

What I'm getting at is simply this - in a world where technology does most of the work for us, the skills of doing it the long way - the hard way - the human way - get lost.

In the ancient world - even in the medieval and Renaissance worlds - humans slowly, painstakingly, with their own hands and their own spirits, partaking as subcreators in the creative work of God (whether they knew it or not), crafted remarkable things. The Sistine Chapel. The Taj Mahal. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Stonehenge. Westminster Cathedral, and Chartres, and Notre Dame.

I would have thought that the expertise, the sheer creative know-how, to craft such remarkable things, would be dying out. I mean, yeah, Beeson Divinity School chapel (where I went to seminary) is less than 20 years old, and it's gorgeous. (Really, it is.) Doesn't have the same outlandish, fantastical, *creative* elements as the Damanhur folks, though. And Petru, the guy that did the frescos for Beeson, is "one of the last living persons" trained in Eastern European methods chapel/cathedral frescos. I'm sure's there's a more technical and accurate phrasing for that...Anyway, there's not many people left that can do what Petru did, supposedly. "And the glory of the world becomes less than it was..."

Shows what *I* know. Good on you, Damanhur folks. You, and other recent experiences like my visit to this place reassure me that there is still wonder and beauty in the world.

And craziness. :)


Discipleship Emerging, pt. 2 - Redux

Let's be a little less conceptual and a little more concrete this time.

I've often told folks that I wasn't really discipled well. I think this is pretty common in my Baptist heritage. Baptists (when I was growing up, and at many other times) were really concerned about professions of faith - conversions - and less so about discipling those making the professions. To be fair, Baptists had developed educational systems that had that end in mind. Church training (which was fading throughout my childhood, but still clung to the church schedule), Sunday School, education through choir and missions organizations like RAs/GAs, ACTeens, and other programs were intended to produce disciples.

Perhaps those programs worked well at one time. I know that in many of my undergraduate religion classes, and in my seminary classes, a lot of non-Baptist students didn't have the same degree of familiarity with Bible stories (Samson and Delilah, Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego, Daniel in the Lion's Den, David and Goliath, etc.) that most of us Baptists had, and didn't seem to have "memory verses" they'd memorized. They didn't show evidence of, ahem, "sword drills" - they were slower to find passages in the Bible than those of us who'd engaged in races trying to beat our opponents with how quickly we could find a particular book...

There have been times in my life when I've been grateful for those Bible stories and working knowledge of how to look something up. Doing summer missions in the Philippines as a college student, I got thrown without preparation time into teaching high schoolers "values education" using the Bible. I'd have been lost that first day without some good Bible stories to pull from.

So a lot of the Baptist educational programs had their good points. Overall, I doubt they really worked on a deep level. There's a couple of reasons for this.

1) They mistook education for discipleship. Bible study and education, any kind of education, are unquestionably very important. But education does not, in the long run, produce transformation. People do all sorts of dangerous or bad things even though they "know better." Education is important, but the key isn't what we know, but Who we know, not what we know, but who we become. Obviously, if we're to be transformed into imitators of Christ, then we have to know things about Jesus so we know what to imitate; but knowing about Jesus in and of itself doesn't require imitation. "Knowing about" is not the same thing as "having a relationship with".

2) Low quality. Not always and not at all times - sometimes I'm sure the material was very good. Sometimes gifted and/or dedicated teachers could do a lot with a little, too. (My best Sunday School class, growing up, was the one taught by my parents. They did a great job.) But looking overall at Vacation Bible School and Sunday School, much of the education that we did remained on a very basic level (so as to be open to newcomers?) - about a 3rd grade level, it seems to me. I wonder if there are any studies on that? That's good up until 3rd grade - but over time, discipleship ministries need to grow up.

Lots of times, and at multiple churches, Sunday School revolved around asking obvious questions with yes or no answers, while acting as if the questions were difficult. Results: boredom, contempt, frustration, people leaving church.

Who had this discussion (multiple times) as a kid growing up in church? (You can substitute lots of things for "cocaine" - drunkeness, going to movies, slow dancing, fast dancing, any dancing...)
Teacher: "Do you think Jesus used cocaine?"
Students: "Um...No. It didn't even exist yet."
Teacher: "Do you think Jesus would've used cocaine if it had?"
Students: "...No. Why are we talking about this?"
Teacher: "Be quiet and answer my questions. Do you think Jesus would've used cocaine?"
Students: "..."
Teacher: "Why won't any of you answer my question?"
Students: "..."
Teacher: "Didn't any of you study your lesson? Why aren't you participating?"
Student 1 (thinks this is stupid): "...You said to be quiet. And we already answered your question."
Student 2 (asleep): "...zzz..."
Teacher (floundering - why isn't this going well?): "Please pay attention. Answer my question. Would Jeus have used cocaine?"
Student 1 (frustrated): "No!!!"
Student 2 (drooling): "...zzz..."
Teacher (good, they answered - we're back on track): "And would Jesus want you to use cocaine?"
Student 1: "ARGH!!!!"
Student 2: "...zzz..huh?"

Real discipleship needs depth - and the freedom to ask questions, not just answer them - questions that don't necessarily have yes or no (or any) answers.

Real discipleship requires community. Not just people we hang out with, but relationships with those who know us well, who see - or don't see - transformation, and helps us to see (or not see) that as well. Spiritual Directors do something similar when they help a directee to "attend to the work/presence/voice/etc. of the Spirit" in their own lives.

Real discipleship also, it seems to me, has to include challenges to *do*, not just to *hear* or *repeat* or *memorize.* Referring back to part 1 - we are to act. We are on mission. Discipleship involves us in the mission, helps us to understand that the mission is central to who we are, if we're disciples of Jesus.

I want...

No, yearn...feel be part of a community where real discipleship - with depth, transformative relationships, and missional action - can take place.

My hope, dream, and prayer, is that as I look for places to serve in church, I will be brought to that kind of place. Not necessarily that they've arrrived at that place...but at least that they're willing to go looking for it.