Tuesday, March 31, 2009


As a bishop's offspring and Lost & Found apologist, I rather enjoyed stumbling across this YouTube video. I believe it's a promo for a Facebook group where you give the gift of your Lutheran Bishop to your friends. It's a little goofy -- but don't think for one second that I didn't add the application and send "my" bishop to 20 of my friends!

(video ht: George Baum, via Facebook)

Faith Lens

I think Faith Lens is the best (free!) lectionary-based resource out there. When I first got started in youth ministry, I was working with a microscopic program budget ($75 / month for grades K-12). I came across Faith Lens and thought I'd give it a try in our high school classroom. It wasn't complicated to teach, and required almost zero prep. The kids liked it (as much as teens will enjoy anything church-related at 9:00 a.m. on a Sunday) because it made connections with current events. It also gave kids - many of whom were not attending worship - an opportunity to discuss the appointed texts for the day.

And did I mention it's free!?!?!

Another cool feature is that Faith Lens is now set up as a blog...so you get receive it as an RSS feed, if you so choose. It's a great resource to give to your small group leaders...or, better yet, provide your young leaders with Faith Lens and let them lead the discussion!

* * * * *

In the interest of full disclosure, I occasionally contribute to Faith Lens...in fact, I did this week. I don't get any perks if a ton of people read / use my articles or not. So no conflict of interest, I promise.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

So Now What?

Yesterday I wrote a lengthy post about how I'm trying to use technology more effectively in youth ministry.

Blah blah blah.

Irony gave me a chilly awakening this morning when I started the car and heard Radio Tradio on the local AM radio station. For those that are unaware, R.T. is like a garage sale that takes place on the radio. People from all over the state of Iowa (and beyond?) call in, wait on hold for a while, and then offer descriptive summaries of the stuff / junk they're trying to sell. The host (supposedly) writes these descriptions down, and encourages the listeners at home to do the same. I could go on, but I'm afraid I'd be snarky, judgmental, and pejorative in my discourse.

Here's the thing. My encounter with R.T. provides me with the perfect entry point to the sequel to yesterday's article.

How enormous is the functional communication / technology gap right now?

I'll pick on myself to illustrate the conundrum...

I'm sitting in a Starbucks, sipping a $2 cup of coffee while syncing my Blackberry Curve to my MacBook and writing on a blog. Twhirl, Gmail chat, and Facebook are all open just in case anyone wants to connect. Skype and iChat are also at the ready for video chat. (And creating hyperlinks like nobody's business!)

Suffice it to say, I feel like I've done a decent job of keeping up with the frenetic pace of change in suburban culture.

And yet I live in a world where people hock their old crap on a 50,000 watt radio station that covers a radius of 250+ miles. I just wanted to scream "have you not heard of Ebay...or Craig's List...or, for that matter, the flippin' INTERNET!?!?!" The R.T. peeps probably have never even heard of any of the linked items in the previous paragraph...and they don't even care. Their life is probably not made better if they hopped on the technological revolution that's happening around the corner in their local high school.

And yet, even as I admonish these people for their obsolescence, most of whom are significantly older than me, I realize that it's just as likely that the kids I work with might think the same awful things about me.

Let's face it. I'm almost 30, with three kids, a mortgage, and a minivan. I don't know how to make Bluetooth work, or even what it is. The van is 10 years old, and thus has no cool hybrid / GPS sorts of gadgets. I don't use Digg, Technorati, or Delicious. I just upgraded from a clunky flip-phone and 200 text messages a few months ago. (Several kids from church plow through 4,000+ texts a month). I can't figure out how to send email messages from said phone, no matter how hard I try. We don't even have cable / dish television at home.

So what's the point of this disjointed rant?

Perhaps there is none...other than to say that we're in a tricky spot right now as a culture. How do we live, share, learn, grow, challenge, and love in a world that is navigated in so many different ways? What can the Radio Tradio crowd contribute to the iPhone demographic...and vice verse? And (perhaps a more important question) - how do we bring those people together and facilitate that kind of communication when they don't even speak the same language?


I need another cup of coffee...

Friday, March 27, 2009

It's How You Use It

I had a good chat with Ellen today. She's a part-time youth minister, full-time student, part-time salon diva, and full-time rockstar. Ellen is a fellow PK (pastor's kid), so we speak the same goofy language.

We got to talking about the ways that technology has impacted youth ministry in the past few years. We surmised that the primary form of communication with teens is text messaging, followed by Facebook. (This is not an earth-shattering observation, I realize.) We boasted about how lucky our churches are that we have unlimited texting plans that we pay for and about how awesome we are at using Facebook to connect with kids. Good for us...

But then we paused. Are we really using these tools in the best possible way?

I hearkened back to Andy Root's excellent book Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry:
Ministry, then, is not about "using" relationships to get individuals to accept a "third thing," whether that be conservative politics, moral behaviors, or even the gospel message. Rather, ministry is about connection, one to another, about sharing in suffering and joy, about persons meeting persons with no pretense or secret motives. It is about shared life, confessing Christ not outside the relationship but within it. This, I learned, was living the gospel.

I wonder if maybe the same principal applies to our use of technology in relational ministry. Maybe instead of using texting and Facebook to get kids to come to youth group, we should use those tools to bring the presence of Christ to those young people through the communication. Let's look at the other members of the Unholy Half Dozen. Anne carries on conversations that span several days through text messaging. Jake uses Tatango to send a daily text message devotion to his high schoolers. Angie and Megan are constantly posting comments and messages on kids' Facebook wall.

In the scenario of technological incarnational youth ministry, the question is no longer "how many kids came to youth group", but instead "how many kids did you text this week"?

It's a slippery slope. My friend Eric always says there's no such thing as a solitary Christian. In essence, faith is both a private belief and a corporate confession. We are always driven to a communal expression of our faith through worship and acts of lovingkindness. It's easy to allow the digital communication we have with young people to become their primary connection to the church. This is not good; not only because of the Pied Piper Syndrome, but because it robs young people of the richness of Christian community and sharing the sacraments.

I might play around with this a little in the coming week. I'll continue to use texting and Facebook to remind kids of upcoming events (youth group, Easter Breakfast, Youth Gatheirng meetings, etc.) -- but I also might try to devote some time each day to intentionally make more frequent connections with kids through the use of these technological media.

I just hope these kids have unlimited text messaging plans, too!


ht: Paul Kedrosky

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I Am Your Father

Evan and I were watching Sesame Street earlier today. He left...I continued watching. (Don't ask me to explain it.) I heard him playing with toys in the other room, so I knew he was safe. But I wasn't prepared for what foul creature emerged a few minutes later...

It was none other than Darth Vader himself!

I ran for my light saber, in the hopes of vanquishing the evil lord of the Dark Side.

As I was about to turn and engage him in a duel of the fates, I heard him utter the famous words - "help me take...this mask off." But, oddly enough, he didn't sound like James Earl Jones with an asthma problem. He sounded like a two-year old with a precocious disposition, adorable personality, and unmanageable hair.

Turns out, it was just Evan.

Disaster has been averted once again. Peace, justice, and security has been restored to Vividell Lane...and to the rest of the galaxy as well.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sacred Practices

My friend Dwight over at the Center for Renewal has been working on a pretty sweet continuing education experience called the Sacred Practices Series. You can read more about it at sacredpracticeseries.org. In short, the series consists of six, 3-day events over the course of two years that focus on growing excellent leadership among congregational leaders. It's relatively inexpensive, too. ($1,900 for the whole thing...and you can apply for a $1,000 grant!)

As I listened to Nadia Bolz-Weber yesterday on the Praxis Podcast, I was reminded why sacred practices (especially liturgical sacred practices) are so important and meaningful. It connects us to the billions of faithful Christians that have come before us. There is also an element of mystery that can be difficult for us headstrong Lutherans to wrap our heads around. This is why Nadia's church does a lot of a cappella chant during their worship. I dig it...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Christianity 21

After weeks of hype and teasers all over the Twittersphere, the Christianity 21 website was launched today. I, for one, can't wait to attend.

Though it doesn't carry the emergent village logo, this conference seems to be very emergenty. What I find to be especially intriguing is that the 21 speakers are all female. I like this very much, but the cynic in me can't help but wonder if this is a response to the perception that previous emerging church events have been dude-heavy. The names that I recognize are profoundly intelligent, dynamic leaders in the church. It will be interesting to see, though, if this conference becomes 21st Century Postmodern Chicks Gone Wild...religiously speaking, of course. If nothing else, it will be nice to see a bit more gender balance in overall attendance.

I remain excited about the emergent church undercurrent that seems to be moving in, around, and through the denomination. I still believe that the future of our denominational identity rests in our ability to engage the emerging church conversation in a public way. Sadly, we keep pumping millions of dollars and thousands of hours into feeding the machine of human sexuality fights.

I'm excited to use Dr. Nathan Frambach's Emerging Ministry book for our Wednesday night adult small group (once we get out of the hell-hole that is our Lenten journey). It's a thoughtful, passionate group of adults. With any luck, we might even pick up a few newbies along the way!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Songs on Sunday

I've been having some fun with our digital video camera, Garage Band, and iMovie this weekend. Here's my first attempt at making a movie (audio & pictures). It's my lovely wife singing one of her favorite songs. I hope you have as much fun watching / listening as we had putting it together.

Maybe Songs on Sunday will become a regular feature. Maybe not. Let me know what you think...

Friday, March 20, 2009


A good friend from college, Nick, and his wife, Jenny, became parents earlier this week.

About 15 weeks early.

Jenny gave birth to twin babies - Birks Nicholas & Adelyne Grace - on March 17. You can read all of the details on their blog. I was fortunate to see the less-than-two-pound babies on Wednesday morning. I am amazed at Jenny's stamina...Nick's patience...and the miracle that God is working through the doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff. The babies were the length of my extended hand, from thumb to pinky.

It's going to be a long road ahead for the Robertson family. If you're the praying type, I encourage you to do so...not just for this family, but for all new parents and for people with health concerns.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009


This is one of few years in recent history that I'm not in Mexico City during the opening weekend of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament (a.k.a. - March Madness). Therefore, I'm hoping to soak up as many games as possible. I've already posted my picks. But here are two of my favorite Madness moments...

(1) Ohio State vs. (9) Xavier - 2007

I loved Gus Johnson's call as much as OSU's comeback. (The call only slightly tainted by the toolish guy doing color commentary.) I watch this video 2-3 times a week. Seriously. The best sequence is as follows:

Gus – Amy Miller, Sean’s wife, takes a deep breath.

Tool – Ohio State still has tiiiime. They’ve got their four best 3-point shooters in the game...

Gus – And he missed it!

Tool – Gotta hurry

Gus – Conley…5 to go…Lewis, who’s been awesome, lets it goooooo…BANGS IT HOME! He ties it at 62! Two seconds to go. Lavender…three-quarter court…and we’re goin’ to overtime…iiiinn LEXINGTON…ha-HAAAA. College basketball. CBS sports. This…is March MADNESS!

(By the way...I wrote that from memory. Honestly. It plays in my head like an old victrola. You can find the exchange at the 3:20 mark on the video.)

(3) Missouri vs. (14) University of Northern Iowa - 1990

I was in 5th grade living in Cedar Falls. At about 1:30pm, Hansen Elementary School turned into a madhouse. During the lunch / recess hour, teachers and students were flocking to televisions like Lutherans to a potluck. Eventually, each grade was given one TV, which meant there were 3-4 classes of students packed into one classroom. UNI kept hanging around a much higher-qualified Missouri team (which had been ranked #1 for several weeks earlier in the year).

The Panthers had the ball with 2 seconds left. Eldon Miller called time-out. He inexplicably inserted sharpshooter Maurice Newby, who had been on the bench for the final 10+ minutes of the game. On the in-bounds play, they run a back screen for Newby, he caught it 25 feet from the hoop. He turned and fired.

Nothing but net.

Hansen Elementary school erupted. Kids were running through the hallways. The principal had to get on the intercom to implore people to return to their classes. Nobody heard him. Mo Newby had put the city of Cedar Falls on the basketball map...and we couldn't have been happier.

* * * coda ***

The best part of the UNI / Missouri story was told to me later that afternoon by my sister, who was in the afternoon Kindergarten class watching the game. The person sitting next to her was Matt Bowlsby, son of then UNI athletic director Bob Bowlsby. She told me that during the timeout, young Matt kept saying "get it to Newby for three...get it to Newby for three". She didn't know what that meant, so I informed her that he basically called the freaking game-winning play.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


I have a close friend, we'll call her "Kristanne", shared a story with me that I found to be hilarious, terrifying, and serendipitous all at once. Here is the email version of the story. Enjoy the recapitulation, and pardon the PG-rated language.

* * * * *

so im driving home from church...about 8 blocks from home -- turned right on red. now, i know im not SUPPOSE to turn right on red at this intersection because there is a sign stating this very thing -- "NO RIGHT TURN ON RED" and the two cars ahead of me did it -- NOT THAT IT JUSTIFIES IT -- but i was just mindlessly driving home, following the flow of traffic. i see a police officer flip a u-turn in the middle of the intersection and pop on his lights, pulling me over. WHAT IN THE WORLD?!?! come on, seriously?

he approaches my window and i was ready for the "can you read the sign, miss" speech, but instead:

"ma'am can i have that open bottle of wine from your front seat?"

i turn --look -- in my mind "the WHAT?! i dont have.... oh shit....the COMMUNION WINE!" i say "yes, sir" as i hand it over. now...i dont EVER argue/make up stories to police officers, just "yes, sir/ma'am" them until my ticket is written and i go on my way....BUT this time, hello -- i cant just let him think that i have an open container!!!!!!! so, i say "sir, i know this is going to sound like a made up story, but i am just coming from church and this is the left over communion wine from church." (as completely truly honest that was, it was 2 buck chuck, so i was certain he wasnt gonna buy it).

he responds: "i need your id, registration and insurance."

my internal dialogue "oh shit im going to jail, losing my job...oh no oh no!!"

officer: "do you have a pen?"

me: "no, just a pencil" (turns out it was one of those fat yellow kindergarten pencils that had somehow made it from my classrooom to my car).

officer: "well find a pen soon and sign the back of your registration card so that its valid and you dont get a ticket for it."

me (interally): got it, check.

he places the open bottle of wine on the ROOF of my car and walks away. mind you, i am 8 blocks from home and so im certain there were plenty of neighborhood folk passing by...cop lights on, open wine on me roof, and little ol me sitting in the drivers seat.

**meanwhile, i text the pastor -- "pulled over. open bottle of communion wine in my front seat. shit." no response. i thought maybe id luck out and she could show up and "testify" on my behalf. well then again, if she did show up (a 6 foot, beautiful, long black hair, tatooed from shoulder to foot woman), the cop would most likely respond with "nice, you are who? where did you get that costume?" so......im thinking -- should i get her one the phone? ah!!! hes coming back.

officer: where do you work?

me: _ _ _ elementary school

officer: what do you do there?

me: i teach kindergarten.......

officer: where do you go to church?

me: uh, well....its this new emerging church....its lutheran.

officer: oh, thats a good choice. but lets talk a little bit about your bad choices.

me (internal): 1 -- sweet!! hes lutheran too!! 2 -- oh seriously, are you giving me the good choice/bad choice talk? this is what i do with 5 year olds all day.

he proceeds to lay into me about open container laws, how --- at the very least -- i could lose my job, etc. etc. then he hands the yellow carbon copied paper through my window "and your second bad choice is that you turned right on red in a posted no right on red turn and thats what this $86 ticket is for. i realize that 2 cars before you did it, but i had to bust somebody." he explains my court date, that i can appeal, blah blah. and then (drum roll please) he takes the bottle of wine off the roof of my car and and hands it back to me with the words "do something with this".

WHAT?!?! YOU do something with this!

officer: pull over to this gas station and dump it out, stash it in your back seat, hide it, something....but dont leave it in your front seat where we can see it." got it, check.

he sends me on my way after my sigh of relief and a "thanks for believing my honesty" comment.
i pulled over in at the gas station, hid it in my back seat, drove home the remaining 8 blocks, and popped that cork as soon as i walked in the door and finished the bottle. (for all of you worried about the theology of communion, it was the UNconsecrated wine, thats why i was taking it home...)

needless to say i am actually grateful for the right on red ticket rather than having to deal with all the other potential drama of a kindergarten teacher having an open bottle of wine in the car. guess having the offering and the extra bulletins in my front seat where helpful.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Church Ombudsman

I've enjoyed reading Le Anne Schreiber's monthly ombudsman column on ESPN.com. (You can read the archives here. Great writing...salient points...balanced articulation.)

It got me thinking - what if churches created a similar role in congregations? I suppose Mutual Ministry teams kinda function that way, but not every church has those. Furthermore, from what I'm told, a lot of Mutual Ministry teams don't really serve the purpose for which they were created.

So here's how I'd set up a Congregational Ombudsman:
  • A 12-month position that starts December 1.
  • Person must have been an active member for 10+ years
  • Appointed by the congregational council
  • Functions as a sounding-board, not as an agent for change
  • Writes a 750-word article that's posted in the narthex
  • Only receives input via email (to prevent them from being bombarded at church)
  • Provides specific (quarterly) recommendations through the appropriate channels

Having an ombudsman would give people permission to share opinions about their church. The job of the ombudsman is not to derail the church / leaders / staff...nor is it to defend those entities. Ideally, this person has the best interest of the church in mind, so they would want to take great care in how they present the feedback they've received. The goal is to give the people (especially those who stand in the corner of the narthex, back of fellowship hall, or in the parking lot and complain about the church) a place where they can share their thoughts, if they don't feel they can go anywhere else.

Of course there are flaws with this idea - namely that it allows people to circumvent what Matthew outlined in 18:15-20. Regardless, I think it would improve communication and transparency in churches...and help people feel that their voice is being heard.

I'd love to read your thoughts on this idea...

To Read or Not To Read

Thought-provoking quote from Adam Carolla, from his March 13th podcast with Doug Benson (at the 50:20 mark):
I never learned how to read. As an adult when I got into radio I had to learn how to read. A listener asked me if I was going to emphasize reading with my kids. There's a part of me that, at first blush, thinks "absolutely, they should love reading, they should be great at reading, they should embrace it." But there's another part of me that thinks, "maybe I have a very fertile mind because I wasn't ingesting other people's ideas." I know that sounds weird, but if you think about it, there are a lot of people that read that are basically taking other people's ideas and downloading them. People drift off into this world that someone else created. Whereas for me, I didn't read, so I was always coming up with my own thoughts and my own ideas.

Carolla is brilliant...and vulgar...and distasteful...and hilarious. As someone who spent several years not reading, I'm intrigued by the notion that I was better served by staying away from books. (Though I kinda doubt it.)

Regardless, I wonder what Carolla would say about me quoting his ideas on how readers spend their time quoting other people's ideas...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bracket Time

It's time to fill out your bracket for the 2009 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. My practice for this foolish ritual is to make my picks immediately after I see the bracket. Gut reactions. No research. No listening to Dickie V or Jay Bilas telling me who to pick. If I spend more than five seconds on a pick, I take the underdog and move on.

(At least that's how I do my first bracket. I usually fill out another one an hour before the first Thursday game tips off. However, for the purposes of the Ullestad Men Wager -- 1 ice cream cone, dating back to 1992 -- the first bracket is the official one.)

Say Cheesy

If there was ever a collection of photos in need of captions, this site has them all. They're all absolutely fabulous...mostly because it's hilarious to observe the changes in fashion and photography trends.

(Personal fave - the Wayne & Jeffery tandem.)

Friday, March 13, 2009

New / Old School

The church where I work is currently looking for a new Lead Pastor...which, as far as I can tell, is sorta like a Senior Pastor. Whatever. The big question being asked right now is, "What kind of pastor do we want to call?" I suppose every church asks this question in a call process, but, for some reason, the answer feels more nondescript than the other times we've been looking for a pastor. Part of the uncertainty resides in trying to figure out if we want an Old School Pastor or a New School Pastor.

Allow me to explain in the form of sweeping, over-simplified generalities...

An Old School Pastor and the church are joined at the hip. They are the first one there in the morning and the last one there at night. The OSP has their hands in everything that goes on at the church. Their influence is felt in every aspect of congregational life - from the style of worship to the way the carpet is vacuumed. The OSP is the point-person for all questions, whether it's their job or not. Nobody wonders who is calling the shots. The OSP may have a spouse, but they are married to the church...and function as Head of Household.

On the other hand, the New School Pastor lives a very boundaried existance. Their day-off is non-negotiable. They delegate most of the work of the church to the appropriate staff people, council members, and committee leaders. The NSP doesn't get too emotionally invested in the details of congregational life. They see their job as being to equip lay people to be the ministers, which means taking a hands-off approach. An NSP knows they will not be there forever, so they partner with the church without putting down any roots.

* * * * *

It comes down to trends in how (Lutheran) seminaries prepare pastors for leadership. A generation ago, pastors kept 9-to-5 office hours...and then spent their evenings and weekends making house-calls, attending meetings, and leading worship. I'm not saying this made them more devoted pastors (or less devoted fathers & husbands)...it's just the way it was. Today, we see the pendulum swing to the other side. Pastors pay careful attention to overall wellness and balance in their life. They talk about avoiding burn-out...carving out time for prayer and study...not attending things that don't require their presence.

I feel like the church (the whole church) is at a tipping point. We've reached equilibrium in the NSP and OSP pool. Both philosiphies bring good and bad things to a congregation. It really depends on what style / approach a congregation prefers. I imagine we'll start interviewing pastoral candidates in the next couple of months. It will be interesting to see what kind of pastor our call committee embraces...and which pastors embrace our congregation!

All I know is, after saying farewell to 3 pastors in 5 years, I hope that whoever we call ends up outlasting me this time!

Worst Movie Accents

For those of you keeping track of my Lenten discipline (new blog post every day), I offer you a brief explanation of why there was no March 12 entry. I went to the gym at 8:30 p.m. for an evening workout. While on the bike-to-nowhere, I started watching the Syracuse vs. Connecticut game. I left at halftime and ran a few errands. As I was heading back home, I heard on the radio that the score was tied with 5:00 left to play. I stopped by a local establishment to grab a quick beverage and watch the last few minutes of the game. More than 2 hours and 6 overtimes later, the game finally ended (Syracuse 127, UConn 117 F/6OT). Thus, my nighttime ritual of blogging spilled into the A.M. Details, details...

(As an aside, it was easily one of the best games I've ever seen live. If you can catch a replay of it at some point, drop everything and tune in.)

On the March 11 B.S. Report, the Sports Guy offered up his list of worst movie accents. I thought these were pretty funny, and even agreed with most of them.

Tom Cruise - Far and Away
Tommy Lee Jones - Blown Away
Jeff Bridges - Blown Away
Michael J. Fox - Back to the Future III
Sean Connery - The Untouchables
Julia Roberts - Michael Collins
Brad Pitt - The Devil's Own

Rob Morrow - Quiz Show
Kevin Costner - 13 Days
Diane Lane - Perfect Storm
Laura Linney - Mystic River
Jack Nicholson - The Departed
Martin Sheen - The Departed
Vera Farmiga - The Departed

Dick Van Dyke - Mary Poppins
Don Cheadle - Oceans 11, 12, 13
Keanu Reeves - Much Ado About Nothing

Julia Roberts - Charlie Wilson's War
James Van Der Beek - Varsity Blues

Keanu Reeves - Devil's Advocate
Jude Law - All the King's Men
Leo DiCaprio - Body of Lies

Dennis Quaid - The Big Easy
Kevin Costner - JFK
Eric Roberts - Heaven's Prisoners

Sean Connery - The Hunt for Red October
Harrison Ford - K-19: The Widowmaker
Tony Siragusa - 25th Hour

Rod Steiger - The Specialist
Robert Loggia - Scarface
Jon Voight - Anaconda

Steven Segal - Out for Justice
Adam Sandler - I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry

Nicolas Cage - Captain Corelli's Mandolin
Alex Rocco - The Wedding Planner

Helen Hunt - Cast Away
Kevin Costner - Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Leo DiCaprio - Body of Lies
Angela Bassett - Notorious

Entire Cast - Alexander
Brad Pitt - Troy
Keanu Reeves - Dracula
Keanu Reeves - Dangerous Liaisons
Jude Law - Cold Mountain
Nicole Kidman - Cold Mountain
Nicolas Cage - When Peggy Sue Got Married
Tom Cruise - Valkyrie

(Best Accent --> Leo DiCaprio; Blood Diamond)

Let the debate begin...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Connect / Baptism

I wrote a little Bible study activity thingy for the ELCA Youth Ministry Network's quarterly "Connect" journal. Members of the elcaymnet can download the entire issue here.

the Gospel: Baptism is a daily dying to sin and rising to new life in God’s love.
the Point: The baptism that took place when you were a baby still matters today.

OPENING (20 min.)

Prior to your meeting time, affix an image of baptism on the center of a 4’ x 6’ sheet of butcher paper: (perhaps a baptismal shell with drops of water, a baptismal font, or an actual picture of a baptism.) Post the butcher paper image on a prominent and accessible wall in your meeting space.

1. Each person should be given a washable marker. It works best if everyone has their own individual color.

2. Ask everyone to find a spot on the butcher paper to write down all of the activities, clubs,
organizations, etc. that they are involved in.

3. When all the lists are completed, read all the items aloud. After each item is read, ask the kids to respond with a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to the question, “Does this activity punish you if you don’t attend.”

4. Calculate the percentage of items listed on the butcher paper that hold students accountable for participation. Write that number somewhere on the paper.


Ask someone to open a Bible to Colossians and read chapter 2, verse 12 aloud
“When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”
What does it mean to be “buried with Jesus in baptism?”
Reflect—What are some aspects of your life that need to “die” and be “reborn”?

Ask another person to open a Bible to 1 Peter and read chapter 3, verse 21 aloud:
“Baptism . . . now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
How can you “appeal to God for a good conscience” if you are baptized as an infant?
What does it mean to you that the waters of baptism make you clean—both inside and outside?

Share a few thoughts with the group, based on the opening activity and scripture:
  • Most of the items listed in our opening activity require regular participation.
  • Baptism doesn’t require anything of a baby— parents, sponsors, church, and God make promises in your baptism.
  • Your regular activities are a part of your life, but they are not life-giving in the way that your baptism is.
  • Even though nothing was required of you in your Baptism, there are still ways that you can respond to God’s promises as you grow older.

WRAP UP & PRAYER (5+ min.)

Have each student take their marker and draw a circle, box, cloud, etc. around their list of activities on the butcher paper. Then ask them to draw an arrow from their list and point it to the baptismal image in the center.

Remind them that dying to sin doesn’t mean giving up what you’re already doing, but it might mean letting your baptism impact the choices you make every day. It also may mean doing things for reasons other than avoiding punishment.

Let's pray...God, you give us new life every day through the waters of baptism. Help us to stand strong in the promises you made when we were baptized. Give us faith when we are unsure of how you are calling us to live. Remind us that you are with us alway—at school, home, at church, with friends, or when we are alone. Let us never forget that you are our God, and we are your children. Amen

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Late in the Evening

After a chaotic week, I have found myself significantly behind in several aspects of my life. I was able to catch a quick cat-nap this evening while Allison ran a few errands with the kids...which means I'm gonna be up late into the night. Time to take advantage of the opportunity to be productive without interruptions. However, what usually happens is I get distracted by YouTube, Facebook, or Tetris...but tonight is not that night! I'm gonna make notes throughout the night, as a convoluted way of holding myself accountable. So, without further ado, direct from the "Things Nobody Really Cares About" department, I offer a live-blog of my night (all times CST).

11:00 - Got back from a quick run to the grocery store. Unpacked said groceries.

11:10 - Looks like Mrs. Smith made a really good apple pie...I may need to examine the contents of the box for truth in advertising.

11:13 - Baking Instructions, step #2: "Remove frozen pie from box, remove plastic wrap, fluff streusel with a fork." (Insert your own fluffing streusel joke here...)

11:22 - Brain Fuel: Raisin Nut Bran, orange cream yogurt, XXX Vitamin Water

11:31 - Dan Patrick Show podcast...checking church email...3 messages from the Treasurer (never good)

11:40 - Sunday School curriculum time. Tonight's project - lesson plans for "Simeon and Anna", grades 5 & 6. Ready...set...GO!

11:43 - The projected date for this lesson to be taught (lectionary-based) is 1/1/2012. Probably not a lot of Sunday School classes meeting on New Year's Day. Better do a good job, just in case.

11:50 - I hear the pitter patter of little feet upstairs. Grrr....

11:53 - Isaac sleepwalking...went right back to sleep.

12:01 - No more DP show. Too much witty banter. Can't focus. Time for Renaissance motets on Pandora.

12:13 - EHark makes an appearance on the gmail chat. She can't figure out what to blog about. I'm clearly the wrong person to ask for advice, as evidenced by my live-blog about nothing.

12:25 - Why does Mrs. Smith make me wait 30-60 minutes for her apple pie to cool?

12:30 - Renaissance music is making me sleepy. This is NOT good! Time for some boy band goodness.

12:42 - A brief detour to the Land of Tetris cured my sleepiness

12:53 - "Your love is like a river, peaceful and deep / Your soul is like a secret that I never could keep / When I look into your eyes I know that it's true / God must have spent a little more time on you." *NSync was a lot of things...one thing they were not - theologians.

1:01 - Why haven't the good folks who make Banquet pot pies figured out a way to keep the crust from sticking to the paper container after it's done baking? I've been a 20+ year connoisseur of these tasty treats. The container used to be foil...now it's paper. It makes no difference. I'm still scraping the crust off after waiting 40 minutes for the darn thing to warm up!

1:10 - S Club 7, y'all...totally forgot about these cats. Thank God for Pandora...

1:14 - EHark knocked it out of the park once again. Great "letter to God" entry.

1:27 - Losing the battle...even boy bands can't keep me awake

1:44 - Enjoying Gustav Holst's "Nunc Dimittis" on YouTube (aka Simeon's Song)

2:02 - Halfway done with the lesson plan!

2:14 - zzzzzzzzzzzzz

- - - - - - -

7:33 - I clearly had an epic fail in my attempt at an all-nighter. Sleep felt good, though. To recap: the lesson plan is almost done, got my act together for the Treasurer, couldn't make up my mind on music, and almost set a high score on Tetris.

Time for a new day!

(I think I just spotted new grey whiskers in my 3-day facial growth. Ugh...)

Monday, March 9, 2009

War on the Wealthy

I thought this Newsweek article was too good not to pass along.
Say you're a CNBC anchor, or a Washington Post columnist with a seat at the Council on Foreign Relations, or a dentist, and you managed to cobble together $350,000 a year in income. You're doing quite well. If you subtract deductions for state and property taxes, mortgage interest and charitable deductions, and other deductions, the amount on which tax rates are calculated might total $300,000. What would happen if the marginal rate on the portion of your income above $250,000 were to rise from 33 percent to 36 percent? Under the old regime, you'd pay $16,500 in federal taxes on that amount. Under the new one, you'd pay $18,000. The difference is $1,500 per year, or $4.10 per day. Obviously, the numbers rise as you make more. But is $4.10 a day bleeding the rich, a war on the wealthy, a killer of innovation and enterprise? That (aforementioned) dentist eager to slash her income from $320,000 to $250,000 would avoid the pain of paying an extra $2,100 in federal taxes. But she'd also deprive herself of an additional $70,000 in income!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

It's Raining, It's Pouring

I'm in my 48th week of blogging, and in that time, I've learned two things about the tendencies of unaffiliated readers...

1. They don't care about how miserable your life is
2. They can only tolerate a finite number of "my kids are so cute" stories

If you're nodding your head at either of these, feel free to skip today's blog post...

The UlleFam had a bit of a rough week. On Monday, Evan was admitted to the hospital after fighting the flu for 36 hours. He was severely dehydrated and low on electrolytes. Our happy-go-lucky two-year old was lethargic, listless, and couldn't kept any food / fluid in him. He steadily improved and got to go home on Wednesday afternoon. The second half of the week was spent catching up at home and work.

Today, Anna & Isaac had the pleasure of singing at the 8:30 a.m. worship service on Daylight Savings Time Sunday. They did a great job, despite getting up an hour earlier than usual. We came home late-morning (almost unheard of for us!), and I settled in to watch some college basketball - triple header on CBS! - while the kids went downstairs to the playroom. A few minutes later I heard a thud...and crying...then Isaac appearing with blood pouring out of his forehead. He had fallen off the couch and hit the corner of the coffee table in the downstairs family room. Allison and I took him to the ER (our home away from home) where he was taken care of. Five stitches and four hours later, we were headed back home.

Throughout all of the frustrating, disappointing, stressful events of the past week, we have been humbled to experience several unnecessary and unexpected acts of graciousness...reminders that God is present, even in the crappy parts of our life.
  • We had two ladies at the church, upon realizing Evan was in the hospital, brought us dinner on Thursday & Friday nights.
  • The ER at Methodist Hospital has awesome medical staff. All of them went on and on about how Isaac was the best 4-year old patient they have ever seen. One doctor told me, "You should write a book on how children should behave in the ER." (Perhaps a self-indulgent blog post will suffice.)
  • The nurse at the ER bent over backwards to make sure Isaac could watch a movie while he was waiting for them to stitch him up - and the TV was on the ceiling, which Isaac and I thought was awesome!
  • The waiting room at the ER was littered with families who got nailed with the flu...most of them with kids younger than Isaac. One nice family, upon our bloody arrival, offered to let us go ahead of them.
  • Allison and I were invited to join a group of couples for a night of hockey, food, and drink...and we didn't have to pay for tickets.
* * * * *

A third thing that readers tend to not like is people who are boastful or preachy about how "richly God has blessed them" with material possessions. (It's the Jabezification of modern Christianity, which expresses that if you pray the right prayers and live a holy life, God will lavish you with wealth, success, and happiness. Pretty much the opposite of everything Jesus taught and embodied.)

Bragging and drawing attention to ourselves isn't the point here. In a week where sensing the presence of the Holy Spirit was a challenge, it was surprising to be reminded that God is faithful, kind, and present in all circumstances.

Here's hoping I can continue to bear witness to this redeeming presence in the week ahead -- this time without spending a chunk of time at the hospital.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Web 2.0: Fail?

I'm toying with a new feature called Adventures in Missing the Point. Every once in a while I come across a very well-written, thoroughly researched article that is full of sound and fury, but signifies nothing. Though I admire the author's efforts, it is, in essence, a waste of time and energy because they have invested themselves in making an irrelevant point.

Here's an article, posted on CNN Money a few weeks ago, that fits the bill. Writer Jessi Hempel offers the assertion that the idea of Web 2.0 (the social-networking, user-generated arm of the Internet) has been an epic failure...because it failed to make a bunch of money. I'm confident that Hempel is correct, in the sense that Web 2.0 sites are not manufacturing oodles of advertising revenue. I'm equally confident that it doesn't really matter.

Web 2.0 set out to make the Internet more useful to the average person. It exists to make the Web a tool that everyone can use to supplement their existing relationships, and help users reconnect with people they have fallen out of contact with. The goal was not to create billionaire moguls out of people like Mark Zuckerberg (founder & CEO of Facebook). The goal was to create functional resources that people can use to teach and learn from one another. Web 2.0 is organic...it's information-sharing in its purest form. And, as such, it is only concerned with making enough money to sustain itself.

This is why Web 2.0 not only doesn't deserve "total bust" status, but the fact that most of Web 2.0 companies haven't gone under (unlike the DotCom boom & bust of the late 1990's) is reason enough to declare it a roaring success.

Nearly 200 million active Facebook users and 6 million Twitter users would probably agree.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Morning Latte

I'm substitute teaching today...which means I'm up a good 2 hours earlier than normal. (So this is how the other half lives.) As I stammered in to Valley High School, I found two things waiting for me -- a vanilla latte and a link to the 3/4/09 Daily Show. Before we got rid of cable / dish TV, my evening routine consisted of The Daily Show at 10pm, The Colbert Report at 10:30, and SportsCenter at 11:00. Since then (going on 2 years next week) I haven't seen a single episode...until this morning.

Enjoy the opening segment

Nice to see that Jonny hasn't lost his edge, as you can see by his crucifixion of CNBC.

"If only I had taken CNBC's advice, I'd have $1 million today...provided I had started with $100 million."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Podcast Ramblings

Over the course of the last 7 days, I've been exclusively in two locations -- church and hospital. I've also found myself awake quite a bit in the middle of the night (rarely by choice). The wee small hours of the morning are the perfect time to dial up a podcast or three. It's like having another person to make small-talk with when the rest of the world is sleeping. Or, if I'm trying to get work done, I turn the volume down almost so low that I can't hear anything, and I pretend that I'm working at a coffee shop during the daytime. I'm not really trying to overhear the conversation going on at the table next to me...but, when I do, it's often a helpful distraction.

Here are a few things I found interesting...
  • 57% of Americans have high-speed Internet
  • 3 billion people have access to the Internet
  • Adam Corolla left "LoveLine" because he got paid 1/3 what Dr. Drew did
  • Jesus' three-year ministry was mostly to, for, with, and about religious people
  • "What happens when Christianity isn't big enough for God?" ~ Rob Bell
  • Mysticism and awe are central to orthodox Christianity
  • "If everyone lived the American Dream, we'd need 4 more planets." ~ Shane Claiborne
  • The U.S. consumes 50% of the world's resources with 6% of the world's population
  • 1 in 8 African-American men will be in prison at some point in their lives
  • Philadelphia is preparing for welfare cuts by building 5 new prisons
  • Lazarus is the only person mentioned by name in Jesus' parables
  • "The U.S. is the wealthiest country in the world, but also the most lonely, medicated, and depressed." ~ Claiborne, again
  • Michael Jackson is doing a series of concerts in London this summer
  • The Dallas Cowboys took a $9,000,000 salary cap hit to get rid of Terrell Owens

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

More Than 11 Songs

Don Miller offers intriguing insight into the creative process a superband (in this case, U2) must enter into when putting an album together. For example...
Go ahead and speak your spiritual themes, but don’t get too Christian. It’s uncool. Really uncool. Not that you care but you do. Walk the line between expressing the powerful redemptive themes in your work and translating those themes to a western audience that puts those themes in the box of absurd anti-science and judgmental condemnation. Make people who know Jesus think you’re talking about Jesus but don’t talk about Jesus. And do this with a clean conscious. And mean what you sing.
I downloaded No Line on the Horizon last night, but haven't listened to all of it yet. So far, it's worth the $3.99 Amazon.com was charging.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

New Orleans Hoops

This article (and others like it) make me excited to be a part of 36,000+ people that are hoping to make a "Lutheran footprint" on the city of New Orleans this summer.

"I think the only reason you are able to talk to me right now is because of sports," says Ward McClendon, a close friend of one of the residents who watched curiously as we measured up our initial photo opportunity. "I think, without the sports in my life at the time, I would either be dead right now or spending my life in the penitentiary."

Ward McClendon is a hero in this neighbourhood, born and raised in the Lower Ninth. On the recommendation of a stranger working diligently to repair his home, we tracked him down to talk about a project he had been working on.

With the help of over 4,500 volunteers in its first year alone (and as of Feb. 2009, not a single government dollar) the Lower Ninth Ward Village blossomed into a charitable organization capable of getting things done.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Portrait of an Auctioneer

We had a great Youth Auction last night. Fantastic food...great items...generous bidders. It was a wonderful community event for the nearly 100 people who crammed into our Fellowship Hall.

The highlight of this bi-annual event is an older gentleman (we'll refer to him as Pete) who calls the Live Auction. Not only has he mastered the art of quick-tounged "auction-speak", but, by virtue of the fact that he has been a member at the church for 40+ years, he can get away with a lot of good-natured heckling of those gathered. He's a hilarious good-old-boy who wants two things to happen -- 1) raise money for youth trips, and 2) make sure people have a good time.

What made his contribution to the Auction even more meaningful is that he has been making regular trips up to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN for the past few weeks. His son-in-law, Mike, has been diagnosed with a brain issue known as an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM). He had brain surgery a few weeks ago, and was given a 50% chance of full recovery. In the days that followed Mike was slow to regain speech or use the right side of his body. On Thursday, his progress was further delayed when he needed emergency open-heart surgery to remove a 6-inch blood clot (and over a dozen smaller clots) in his heart.

Pete took Mike's oldest two boys up with him on Thursday night; maybe to say good-bye, or maybe just so they could see their dad when he came out of surgery. That's the thing about life-threatening conditions - the family is never quite sure what to do. For my part, I was told to make a contingency plan, in the event that Pete couldn't get back for the Auction. I didn't hear anything from him all weekend. By Saturday night, I was worried.

I got to church early Sunday morning, selfish enough to be nervous that we were going to sans Auctioneer. As I entered the church, I caught a glimpse of a short guy in a choir robe walking up the stairs. Sure enough, there was was ole' Pete getting ready to warm-up with the choir. He hates singing at the early service...but he was there, faithful as ever, anchoring the bass section. Devotion. Committment. Accountability. Honor. These are things that define men like Pete...attributes that are as scarce as a Honus Wagner baseball card.

Mike is in stable condition right now. You can read more about his recovery on his blog. I'm told it will be several weeks - if not months - before Mike is home. That's the best case scenario.

Mike is the pastor of Crossroad Evangelical Free Church in Earlham, IA. My wife used to teach piano lessons to one of his kids. He and I have crossed paths a few times over the last six years. Although he and I are not always theologically akin, I know him to be a devout husband, father, and pastor. His medical condition is severe and scary. If you're the praying type, please consider asking God for healing, patience, and strength for Mike, Karla, their five children, family, and congregation...and thank God that Mike is surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses that are nursing him back to health.

(And thanks, Pete, for making time to call the Auction. We wouldn't have come close to raising $8,000 without you!)

Luthermergent Survey

If you're Lutheran and have an opinion about the Emerging Church conversation, please take a few minutes to click here and offer your thoughts.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sports Fan Barry

My centrist, fence-sitting, moderate heart is happy when I see a picture of my President watching a basketball game, drinking a beer, sitting next to a fidgety little kid. I feel a sort of kinship with this man; not because he and I would ever hang out...but because I've done the same three things on multiple occasions. Good on ya, Prez!