Thursday, April 30, 2009

Easter Questions

Here's a little something I wrote for the Here We Stand Student Webzine a few weeks ago. Isaac has been particularly inquisitive lately, which caused me to revisit this devotion. (Bear in mind, the audience is 7th it might be a tad more "simple" than other topics broached in koinonia.)


Isaac had a lot of questions. “Why do we have to go to church so much this week?” Whether he liked it or not, the little four-year old was attending five worship services in eight days. It was Holy Week, and there were a lot of differences in the worship services.

“Why are we waving palm branches?”
“Why does the pastor wash people’s feet?”
“Why is it so dark and quiet?”
“How come they slam the book?”
“Why did Jesus have to die?”
“Where did all the trumpets come from?”
“How did Jesus get out of the tomb if a heavy stone was in the way?”
“How did Jesus come back to life?”

We expect questions from little kids. But what about big kids? And adults?

At the end of John’s gospel (John 20:24-29) we see one of Jesus’ disciples have some very real questions and doubts. Jesus appeared to the disciples earlier in the day, but Thomas was not in the house at the time. When he returned, Jesus had left. The other disciples were telling Thomas that Jesus was alive; Thomas doubted. I imagine that there were a few follow-up questions that Thomas asked his friends.

It’s good to ask questions about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Asking questions can help you grow in faith and understanding. You’ll never get too old to ask questions. Be sure to find some trusted friends, parents, and other adults that can help you discover answers to your questions. You never know – they might have the same questions you do!

Think About It:
• What questions do you have about church?
• If you were Thomas, how would you have responded?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Worship Reflections

My friend Sonja posted some reflections on worship at her Facebook blog. I thought they were worthy of a re-post...


Sonja's Blog: Crossroads

You will have to forgive my recent tendency toward the religious. However, I find myself once again compelled to post on the topic. Humor me.

We are finding ourselves at a crossroads at our church. The traditions that have served us well for years are being challenged, and there is a ever-growing call for renewal of our worship practices (otherwise known as “adding a contemporary service”).

Those who feel strongly have weathered the tide of transition after a long-tenured pastor’s retirement and the upheaval of losing our next lead pastor after a few short years. Being in a constant state of transition, this multitude has been encouraged to be patient, not to push for change during such tumultuous times.

And so the din is rising. Will we ever not be in transition?

My thoughts on the subject of transforming our church go beyond the worship experience to the entirety of how we do or do not look to understand the needs of the “ordinary” people in our immediate community (i.e. not necessarily homeless/jobless, etc) who have needs (parenting/marriage/general life challenges) and how we become a safe, welcoming, nurturing place for to find guidance that then reveals the far-reaching effect God’s grace and a life of faith have in transforming our ordinary lives to the extraordinary that we crave (and expect!) but cannot achieve on our own.

In my opinion, we need to first formalize the process of getting to know new individuals by offering a variety of more intimate gatherings through which they can get to know others in the church (often known as small groups – Bible studies, discussion groups, child-rearing, mothering, marriage … etc.) When a new member joined the church an invitation would be extended to join a group that may be of interest to him/her.

When we welcome new members and then leave them afloat in a sea of new people to somehow find their way, we set ourselves up for failure. Only those who are bound and determined to make this particular church their home will have the fortitude to keep attending events, volunteering and being present until people quit asking “Are you new here?”

That’s not how Jesus did it, and it’s not how we should be doing it either. Jesus went to the people … Jesus turned the conventions of the day on their head and challenged us to a live a life of love by extending ourselves to others.

Second, just like schools have to rethink many of the ways they conduct outreach to parents (i.e. going beyond open houses and parent-teaching conferences) who may have never finished school or have terribly negative associations with “traditional” school outreach, we need to figure out how we become less scary to the individual who has only ever seen church as a place of negativism, hypocrisy, obligation and hurt. Whether those in established religion want to believe it or not, these are some of the reasons young families don’t just NOT go to church but AVOID anything with a religious connotation.

Those same traditions that bring us comfort and peace are representative of a time and place where a hurting soul came to be loved, nurtured and transformed and instead found judgment. By being willing to shed these traditions in favor of a worship experience that is still liturgical, worshipful and gospel-centered but is also in tune with the needs and styles of these individuals, we acknowledge that we are truly a “Christ-Centered Community of Hope and Belonging for ALL.”

By being willing to put words on the screen and sing with guitars and piano, we remove the stigma that only musically-inclined people who appreciate pipe organ and three part harmony attend church. By incorporating dramatic elements that provide real-life examples to make otherwise foreign and difficult concepts relevant and real, we acknowledge that the purpose of a sermon is the message (the GOSPEL centered message) not how it gets to you. By providing moments of intimacy during the worship service (communion in the round, sharing of the peace at the beginning, opportunities for personal connection) we acknowledge that we are a community that cares for and responds to the needs of our members and the world while focusing on God’s message as we worship Him.

The most important thing to understand is this is not an “us” versus “them” discussion, and it can never be. We are called to serve.


To serve.

Young families not attending church are raising the next generation … do you want to have a say in introducing those children to Christ and shaping their values, or not? Will you turn your backs on them and hold fast to tradition while they drown in a sea of anger and self-doubt or will you “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2 New International Version).

Monday, April 27, 2009

Claiborne Recap

I enjoyed my maiden voyage to the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College late last week. I took a little heat for referring to the GAC campus as "simultaneously beautiful and bland" on Twitter...but I stand by my initial observation. The benchmark of our trip was to spend the day with Shane Claiborne.

(For those of you not familiar with Shane's work, take a moment to click here, here, and here.)

Shane preached at the daily chapel service and then spent some open Q&A time with a group of a couple dozen youth ministers. He is a person who has the gift to be fully present where he is. I never sensed anxiety or secondary agendas in the conversation. He is compelled by the Gospel to present his case for a radical new (or really old) kind of discipleship. Not once did he urge us to buy his book, visit his website, or donate financially to his cause. Instead, his focus was on honoring our questions and affirming this ragamuffin group of youth ministers for their work.

The group ate pizza in The Dive (an on-campus hangout) and a few of us traveled down to Mankato for relaxing and reflecting. It was a beautiful spring day. We ventured to the campus of Mankato State and soaked up the sun and college frivolity. I read a few chapters from the book of Acts in my Carolina-blue "Lutheran Study Bible"; others napped.

At night, Shane gave a more formal presentation to an auditorium filled with a predominately under-30 crowd. With my computer in the fix-it shop and my phone / voice recorder out of battery, I was forced to jot a few salient points on the back page of the aforementioned Lutheran Study Bible. Here were the money quotes:

On war:
Christians should be the hardest people to convince that violence is necessary; not the ones beating the war drums.

Referencing a sign on a church / homeless shelter in Philly:
How can you worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one on Monday?

On criticism:
The best critique of what's wrong is the practice of something better.

Quoting MLK:
We should lament deeply that the most segregated hour in our nation is 11:00 a.m. on Sunday.

Addressing accusations that he's a Socialist:
If we learn to love others as ourselves, Capitalism won't be possible and Marxism won't be necessary.

Much of what Claiborne presented aligned with my immersion experiences at the Centro Luterano in Mexico City. I am moved by this message and find myself inspired to make different choices in the way I live. Upon my return home, I re-read my New Year's resolution post about The Year Of Living Simply. Several friends misunderstood my intention for those resolutions. Out of genuine concern for my well-being, they thought I was trying to simplify my life so I would be less stressed and anxious. What I was really getting at, however, was trying to establish patterns that were more congruent with my faith. Embracing rituals, spending less money, and making smarter use of the Internet are a few ways that I can avoid the ruts that are associated with my residence in Suburbia. My road trip to see Shane Claiborne reminded me of the call to take up my cross and follow Jesus...and to joyfully live in response to God's grace.

(It also reminded me how much I like hanging around really smart people.)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Galatians Bible Study

Ellen Rothweiller is a friend, youth ministry colleague, and fellow T.O. (theologian's offspring). She wrote a cool Bible Study on Galatians for one of her religion classes. In the spirit of koinonia Ellen has allowed me to share it with y'all.

A Bible study on Galatians

Warm-up Question:
Why do you make promises? Why do you break promises?

Read Genesis 15 and 17(have students read in turns)

  • What covenant did God make with Abram(Abraham)?
  • How did God fulfill his covenant/promise?
  • What became a sign of God’s promise to Abraham?
    (Be sure to make the connection between covenant and promise. This also may be a good time to discuss the symbolism and purpose of circumcision, as a physical sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendents. Many youth may only know its purpose for today’s context.)

Opening Discussion:
What are some signs of a promise?
(jewelry, tattoo, etc…)

Give each student a piece of paper. Ask them to fold it into fourths creating four squares. Write the following titles on the top of each square:

Promises I've Kept

Promises I've Broken

Promises Others have Kept to Me

Promises Others have Broken to Me

Give students time to fill this out and think about promises in their lives. After most students have finished, invite them to share one promise from each quadrant as they feel comfortable. On a whiteboard draw the same squares and fill them in with key words as the students share their promises. Leave these words on the board for the remainder of the study, both as a reference for conversation and to keep these ideas fresh in the students’ minds.

Read Galatians 3: 15-29

  • What do you hear?
  • What does Paul say about the promise? (conditional??)
  • What does this mean for us?

Read Galatians 5: 6, 13-15

  • Why does Paul say it is not necessary to be circumcised?
  • What does Paul say about the law?
  • Where do we get this freedom Paul says we have?
    (Again leave these questions open for discussion. Affirm all answers, and avoid interjecting with your own ideas until necessary. Be open to any and all conversations this discussion may lead to.)

Revisit the promise quadrants. Ask youth to reevaluate their promises in light of what Paul said in Galatians. After some discussion on this, point out that in the middle of the four squares there is a cross. This signifies Christ as the unbroken promise in our lives, and God’s promise to Abraham and to us, his descendents, fulfilled through Christ on the cross.

Closing Prayer:
Close in prayer with a “squeeze prayer”. Have each student think of a promise God has kept for them. Join hands in a circle and offer a general prayer to open and then squeeze the hand of the person on your right. This signals their turn to share their promise, or squeeze the next hand to pass. The prayer continues around the circle. When the squeeze comes back to the leader, offer final thoughts and end the prayer.

Ellen's Notes on Galatians Bible Study

I was intrigued with the book of Galatians and thought it held some valuable faith building passage for young people. In my ministry as the Youth Director at St. James Lutheran Church I wanted to find a way to present this book of the bible, and the Gospel in it, to youth in a way that was relevant and understandable.

I patterned my Bible Study after the ELCA format used in Faith Lens. They have a warm-up question that serves to get the kids on topic by using language that they understand. In this case when talking about a covenant we are really talking about a promise. I also used the activity to bring their personal experiences into the conversation, which helps to keep them engaged and relating to the topic.

I questioned how much to include about circumcision. I decided because it is such a prominent theme and the issue at hand in Galatians it would be necessary to address it. I am also sure that many youth wonder why it is discussed so much in the Bible since nowadays it is considered to be more of a private matter. Also, it served as the symbol of the covenant for Abraham, and so I brought symbols of promises into the conversation so the youth would have a frame of reference.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Right Question

Haven't written anything in a week. Lots going on...and I just haven't had anything interesting to impart.

Just put something up over at Center for Renewal blog. The site is in its infancy, but there are some good things being shared over there. Happy reading...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Death of Institutions

Chide me all you want for reading sports blogs, but I thought Will Leitch's reflection on the death of Harry Kalas was poignant:
There aren't many broadcasters like Buck and Kalas left...they are relics of a more permanent era, when people really did have one job for 50 years and couldn't be happier about it. (And back when people listened to the radio, the one station they could get, only if they happened to be on a hill.) That doesn't happen anymore, in any field. The people who have been doing this for so long, whether they're a broadcaster, or a newsman, or just the guy who does your taxes, are the last of their breed. We are a transient society, constantly moving, looking for the next thing, never sitting still for too long. There isn't much constancy. This makes for a more vibrant, exciting life. (Theoretically, anyway.) But it also casts darkness on all our institutions: When nothing lasts for too long, those things have lost value. We appreciate them more ... but we find ourselves mourning them less when they're gone. There's always something else.

I think Leitch is right. I see that in our congregation - dozens of households (usually young families) have come and gone in the past six years. Lots of new faces around the church; and many familiar ones are gone. Perhaps this is just the way of things for Xers and Millennials. If so, what does this mean for the church - one of the oldest "institutions" in history. Will it exist two generations from now? If so, what will it look like?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Jesus Christ Superstar - Live Blog

Crucifixus est...

Our Lenten journey is over. The Passion is all that remains. In honor of the Great Three Days, I humbly offer up a live blog of the greatest cinematic achievement of all time -- Norman Jewison's film adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Weber / Tim Rice rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar.

I will not be giving a minute-by-minute rundown of the movie, as I did with my last live-blog. Instead, I will give you some bullet pointed snarky comments and profound insight in chronological order under the heading of each song / scene.

OK...I'll give you a moment to cue up the DVD...there's the old-school Universal Studios we go!

  • We swoop in on the ruins of Israeli road station of Avdat - a market city along a main trade route in the 1st century BC. Quite artsy.
  • How did all of those people fit on that one little bus?
  • What is the significance of the "New Lincoln" tank top adorned by Herod?
  • Pilate looking fabulous in burgundy velvet robe
  • Judas appears paranoid from the moment he steps off the bus. Motion sickness perhaps?
  • Jesus has some nice skin (on his back)...can't say the same for the facial hair
  • Ascend the scaffold!!!

Heaven on Their Minds
  • No fewer than four fast-zoom shots on Judas - sitting in the shape of a cross
  • A black Judas...I bet that didn't cause much of a stir in 1973.
  • I love the rich young man pointing emphatically to his palm...Overacting 101
  • "Have you forgotten how put down we are!?!?!" (Thumbs down, says Judas)
  • Then he crushes some rocks in his hand. Some fine choreography in this sequence.
  • Judas appears to be wearing a rope around his waist and a coin purse....hmmmm....foreshadowing anyone?

What's the Buzz?
  • Classy Roman soldiers, complete with purple tank tops and metal bowls on their heads
  • Lots of wild hand gestures in Jesus' face. I wonder if he was ever accidentally poked in the eye during filming
  • A Native-American Mary Magdalene...and a Anglo Saxon Jesus...more interesting casting choices.

Strange Thing Mystifying
  • I'm guessing that Judas wasn't invited to many parties. What a Debbie Downer!
  • "Hey cool it man!"
  • "It's not that I object to her profession..."
  • Pissed-off, lazy-eyed Jesus -- "then leave her alone"
  • Classic glare from Peter to Judas
  • "Not one....NOT ONE OF YOU!"
  • We will call this scene These Idiots Just Don't Get It (TIJDGI #1)". Ok? Ok...

Then We Are Decided
  • A song added just for the film...not included in the original score
  • Love the vocal dichotomy of Annas (counter tenor) and Caiaphas (bass)
  • Sexy jewel-encrusted breast plates - and those hats. Divine!
  • "Then we are decided? Then we are deciiiiided!"

Everything's Alright
  • Mary is swooptastic throughout the entire movie...I'm already annoyed
  • I think Judas is just jealous that Jesus is getting all the oil treatments
  • "People who are hungry, people who are starving, matter more than your feet and hair!" Haven't you heard of the social gospel, Jesus?
  • Best. Handshake. Ever. I think Pastor Eric Carlson would agree
  • Don't blink, Jesus. C'mon...I dare you. Blink your eyes. Do it!
  • If Mary was singing the same thing over and over a few inches from my face, I would find it difficult to "close my eyes and relax". I'm just saying...
  • TIJDGI #2

This Jesus Must Die
  • Any time a movie includes a scene that starts with a swarm of hundreds of birds encircling overhead, it's never a good thing for the protagonists. Paul Hedeen taught me that in
  • I think all church councils should meet on scaffolds in the middle of a desert.
  • The only time I've heard the word "blockhead", outside of the Peanuts comic strips
  • Apparently pounding your hands on pipes is Arabic Sign Language for "dangerous"
  • "One thing I'll say for him, Jesus is cool." "He's top of the pole." Not Tim Rice's best lyrical work, methinks.
  • Caiaphas has huge vocal range..."fools you have no perception!" His abs are nice, too.

I already talked about this earlier in the week. Consider it a foretaste of the feast to come.

Simon Zealotes
  • My second favorite scene.
  • Amazing special effects - it's like the dancers are appearing out of nowhere...and then pausing in mid air or dancing in slow motion. Simply stunning.
  • I've said it once, but it bears repeating -- there's no way all of these people fit on one bus.
  • One of the dancers looks a lot like Diana Ross
  • Simon looks like a coked-out, poor-man's version of Jimi Hendrix
  • WOAH! Apparently bras were optional for the young lady in the grey tank top. Gracious!
  • Now the dancers are rolling around in the dirt. Odd...
  • I now know that there are no cavities in Simon's teeth. Thank goodness for 37" LCD TVs.
  • I love how his head shakes after the "A-" and before the "-men". Crazy cat!

Poor Jerusalem
  • The definitive TIJDGI scene. (#3, if you're scoring at home)
  • There's needy, clingy, despondent Mary staring blankly at Jesus
  • "To conquer death you only have to die..."
  • Simon is super confused. Jesus is getting more and more frustrated...

Pilate's Dream
  • I thought his wife was the one who had the dream. Laziness in casting, Mr. Jewison?
  • Stellar blue topaz ring, Pontius
  • More foreshadowing?

The Temple
  • Pretty provocative scene, for a G-rated movie. Drugs, sex, semi-automatic weapons, and fresh produce.
  • I have a feeling they only did one take of this scene.
  • "Mmmyyyyyyyyyyyyy temple should be a house of prayer!" You tell 'em, Jesus!
  • Has anyone ever told Jesus about Zoloft or other anti-anxiety drugs?
  • Judas' face is classic at the end. Eyes squinting...mouth agape...shaking his head.
  • TIJDGI #4
  • Creepy exchange with the lepers.
  • Trivia: The controversial line "Heal yourselves!" was replaced with "Leave me alone!" for the film.

I Don't Know How to Love Him
  • One of the two most famous songs from the rock opera...and my least favorite. Not sure if it's the swoopiness...or her enormous mouth...or the fact that she doesn't really do anything...or maybe it's just because I don't think Mary really felt this way about Jesus. Whatever.
  • I do like her metal guitar pick necklace, though
  • "I've had so many men before in very many ways." What are you saying, Mary?
  • I have nothing else to say about this scene. Let's just move on.

Damned for All Time / Blood Money

  • Cue the five huge tanks - easily the most expensive aspect of making this movie.
  • Good thing there's a scaffolding that Judas can climb to escape the tanks!
  • I love how the Sanhedrin ignores Judas when he shows up - just turning their backs on the one guy that is going to get the job done.
  • Annas' hat is so, so, SO fantastic
  • "Think of the things you can do with that money, choose any charity, give to the poor"
  • Annas drops the money...what a punk!
  • What's up with the little bugs flying around Judas' face
  • Cue the two fighter jets.........NOW!

The Last Supper
  • It's nice that they found a little green space in the middle of the desert.
  • Nice homage to Da Vinci
  • Nothing says sacrament like red kool aid and an over-sized cracker
  • "No, not me!" Yes,
  • "You LIAR, you Judas!"
  • I've always had a hard time with Jesus calling Judas a "fool"...
  • I love the disciple who is wearing a mesh shirt who becomes hypothermic as soon as Judas takes off. Instantly, no fewer than three disciples are rubbing his arms and back. Strange.
  • Jesus brings Judas a black coat. Judas responds by calling Jesus a "mandarin" several times. Once citrus is being used in an offensive manner, all bets are off!
  • Love the symbolism of Judas scattering the sheep that were initially led in by a shepherd. Well played, sir.
  • TGJDGI #5

Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)
  • Somebody get the disciples some Red Bull...or at least a cup of coffee.
  • Best scene in the movie
  • Rock climbing without a belay. Paul Hill would not approve.
  • The singing is amazing. I will not listen to arguments on this.
  • Sweet use of famous crucifixion paintings
  • "What you started; I didn't start it!"
  • I saw Neely do this last year. He's well into his 60's...and he still has the pipes for Gethsemane. Awe-inspiring, to say the least.

The Arrest
  • More trivia: First inter-racial guy-and-guy kiss in a major motion picture.
  • "Hang on Loooooooooorrrrrrrrrrrrdddd"
  • News reporter style interrogation -- brilliant
  • Diana Ross is back -- "tell me Christ how you feel tonight"
  • "Stay a while you'll see him bleed!" (Cue confused Judas face...)

Peter's Denial
  • LOVE the soldier who is brushing his teeth with this thumb.
  • Mary at her most swoopy "don't you knoooow what yyyooooouuu have saaaiiiid"
  • Perhaps they should have given Mary a hair tie or barrette for this scene
  • "It's what he toooooold us yyyooouuuuu would dooooooooo..." Ugh!

Pilate & Christ
  • Pilate - so menacing atop his rocky perch
  • Best two-second sequence in the film: Pilate over-selling his "but are you king, KingoftheJews" line, followed by Woman #2 cackling dismissively over her shoulder.
  • "You're deep in trouble, friend!"
  • Does he not remember the dream he had a few days ago? Not a very smart guy.

King Herod Song
  • So many outrageous things in this scene. Let me see if I can catch them all.
  • Everyone rubbing this grotesque, obese young fella
  • The surprised looks from the piano player, apple-eating-dude, Diana Ross, and ski goggles guy are outrageously funny
  • Finger pointing choreography
  • Excellent belly on Herod
  • I don't know about you, but when I see blond men in tighty-whiteys, I immediately think of using them as a chair
  • Clothing optional for background dancers
  • Chasing Jesus out with yeast rolls
same dude

Could We Start Again, Please?
  • This song kinda pisses me off the older I get. I used to really like it. Now I don't. Call it the ultimate TGJDGI scene (#6).

Judas' Death
  • "What you have done will be the saving of everyone" Caiaphas accidentally mouths the word "Israel" instead of "everyone". (It was originally Israel in the Broadway show.)
  • I don't know how to love him...poignant. Way better than Mary's.
  • "Does he love me too? Does he care for me?" For what it's worth, I think the answer to both questions is "yes".
  • This scene is pretty scary for a G-rated film.
  • Why does Judas take off his shirt to hang himself?
  • Erie that the tree overlooks Pilate's court

Trial Before Pilate
  • Nice of Herod to show up after chasing Jesus away from his house with bread
  • Pilate is a really flamboyant gentleman. It bears noting.
  • Everyone is sweaty. Must be hot in the Israeli desert.
  • "Talk to me Jesus Christ"...followed faintly by the instrumental part from Pilate's Dream that accompanied the lyric "I asked him to say what had happened." Duh! I bet Pilate got less than a 15 on his ACT.
  • Herod breathing it all in...through his large nostrils
  • 39 lashings. Intense. Mary losing her mind. Caiaphas scowling. Herod dry heaving.
  • Don't roll's dirty and rocky...don't roll over...don't roll over....ooohhhh. Ouch! I told you not to!
  • "Everything is fixed and you can't change it!"
  • Pilate serving up some of the best scream-singing ever.
  • Water + fake blood = kool aid from the last supper
  • "Die if you want to, you innocent puppet!"

  • Jesus; quite handsome after taking a shower and putting on a new robe
  • Welcome back (from heaven?) Judas!
  • The angels are both funky and sexy. God must have loved the 1970s.
  • "Could Mohammad move a mountain, or was that just P.R.?"
  • Quite the contrast - Judas rocking out / Jesus dragging the cross

  • Four shots of the cross being raised...same number as there were of Judas at the beginning of the movie. Hmmmm...
  • Nails in the hands, not the wrists.
  • Great cacophony of piano and human sounds during this scene.
  • Only 3 out of 7 of the last words of Jesus.
  • Mary has thrown herself on the ground...again. Just go away.
  • "Into your hands I commit my spirit." Fin.

John 19:41
  • "Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid." (NRSV)
  • That's a wrap! Everyone, back on the bus!
  • Makes me cry every time, once I see Judas getting on the bus.
  • Shepherd and sheep walking across the bottom of the screen as the sun descends behind an empty cross. Jewison claims it was unintentional. Deliberate or not, well done, sir. Well done.
  • silence.

Until Christ is arisen...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Don't Blow It

Jeff Jarvis (Huffington Post) has some sobering words for the newspaper industry:

You blew it.

You've had 20 years since the start of the web, 15 years since the creation of the commercial browser and craigslist, a decade since the birth of blogs and Google to understand the changes in the media economy and the new behaviors of the next generation of - as you call them, Mr. Murdoch - net natives. You've had all that time to reinvent your products, services, and organizations for this new world, to take advantage of new opportunities and efficiencies, to retrain not only your staff but your readers and advertisers, to use the power of your megaphones while you still had it to build what would come next. But you didn't.

You blew it.

I can't help but wonder if someone will be writing a similar letter to the church 10 years from now.

Have we misread (or turned a blind-eye from) the ways in which communication and culture shifts have impacted our mission field? Are we holding on to the right traditions? Do we fight the wrong fights and, in the process, ignore the fights worth fighting?

What would happen if our proud denomination of 4.8 million members removed the inactive or disinterested members from their roster? Would 2 million people remain? 1.5 million? How many members would be under the age of 40? How big / strong / vibrant is our church today? What things are in place to ensure that the church is still the church for the next generation?

Are mainline, protestant churches destined to suffer the same fate as newspapers?

It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility. We're at a pivotal moment right now. It doesn't have to end badly. We don't have to keep closing more churches than we grow. We don't have to keep shrinking in membership, worship attendance, and giving. These can be avoided if we stop complaining about the way the world is changing and embrace what's going on. We can find our voice in the midst of the Information Age. I believe we're poised to not only survive but thrive in a postmodern (and post-postmodern) universe, if we hold true to what is at the heart of our theology...and get our hands a little dirty in the process.

Here's hoping we can learn from the mistakes of some in the newspaper industry...for the sake of the church and the sake of the gospel.

(article ht: @paulyeager)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Four Stars

A few weekends ago, I made a return "home" to Waverly, IA...the place where I spent my college years. I was amazed at how much cooler this little town of 9,000 people had become since I graduated in 2001 (and this is only 9 months after 1/2 of the town was under water due to record flooding in June 2008). Subway moved to a larger spot...Hardee's turned into Family Video...they added a Pizza Ranch and a Domino's within a few blocks from campus...there were at least 3 new bars that looked pretty cool...they gave the Hy-Vee an extreme makeover...Wal-Mart became "Super"...Applebee's showed up...even the golf courses had been redone.

Amidst all of the progress is a, right on the main drag across from campus, you will find a tradition unlike any other -- The Other Place. Everything about this joint was the same as I had left it...right down to the tacky "Prime Rib special" sign out front that hadn't been changed in 10 years. Upon entering, I was greeted by the stale air of cigarette smoke (even though smoking has been banned in restaurants for over a year) and all-you-can-eat popcorn. I grabbed a faux wood bowl for each of my two comrades before sitting down. We had the place almost entirely to ourselves.

The waitress (who called us all "hon" and "dear" throughout our stay) brought menus. Silly woman. There was no need. I knew exactly what we wanted. A large FourStar pizza, a pitcher of 1919 root beer, and three frosty mugs -- a.k.a. The Friday Night Special.

Our diner-quality waitress did a double-take. I had placed the order with the prowess and panache of a townie...but she had never seen me before. In fact, I hadn't darkened the OP doors since May 2001. Clearly, she was in the presence of true greatness. Needless to say, not only did I arrive, but I brought the fire.

The origins of the Friday Night Special dated back to my freshman year of college. New friend and future best man, Sir Daniel Robert Bock, would accompany me to the OP on Fridays, just as our friends were getting their drink on. It's not that we refused to be in the presence of *gasp* under-age drinking on a college just wasn't our scene at that point. We just wanted to eat good food and talk for hours. The FourStar pizza - an intoxicating blend of sausage, mushroom, pepperoni, green peppers, and a metric ton of cheese - didn't just fill our (growing) bellies with deliciousness. Those nights filled our souls with great conversation and an evolving kinship that we shared during our college years.

Sadly, like many college friendships, Dan and I fell out of touch in the years that followed graduation. I got married. He moved to Denver. I moved to Illinois. He got married. I had kids. He got a dog. I moved to Des Moines. He had kids. Yadda yadda yadda. In other words, life got in the way...or, more appropriately, we allowed life to get in the way. We would catch up on the phone every few months; always ending with the usual "we need to do this more often" caveat that was never fulfilled. (To be fair, he was always better than I was at picking up the phone.) We completely lost touch a few years ago. Maybe he was discouraged that I never called him...maybe he just got invested in his own rocky mountain reality...or maybe this is just what happens when you turn 30 and live 500 miles apart.

No matter what, though, every time I go to the OP on Bremer Ave. and order way too much pizza and pop, I'll think of my good friend Dan...and the special times we had on Friday Nights.

Pill Popper

From the Washington Post:
During two weeks of watching television game shows and trying to keep up with homework online, the Fairfax teen, an honor student and lettered athlete, had time to study the handbook closely. If she had been caught high on LSD, heroin or another illegal drug, she found, she would have been suspended for five days. Taking her prescribed birth-control pill on campus drew the same punishment as bringing a gun to school would have.

I don't like this. I somewhat understand the position that the principal is in...but isn't it time to readdress the rules? A two-week mandatory suspension and a recommendation for expulsion? Seems a bit harsh. Makes me wonder how I would respond if this young gal was a part of youth group at my church.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Forbes just released its annual "America's Most Livable Cities" list. Here's the criteria:

To form our list, we looked at quality of life measures in the nation's largest continental U.S. metropolitan statistical areas--geographic entities defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget for use by federal agencies in collecting, tabulating and publishing federal statistics. We eliminated areas with populations smaller than 500,000 and assigned points to the remaining metro regions across five data sets: Five-year income growth per household and cost of living from Moody's, crime data and leisure index from Sperling's Best Places, and annual unemployment statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Top 15:

15. Little Rock, AR
14. Peabody, MA
13. Madison, WI
12. Harrisburg, PA
11. Denver, CO
10. Pittsburgh, PA
9. Worcester, MA
8. Baltimore, MD
7. Cambridge, MA
6. Oklahoma City, OK
5. Tulsa, OK
4. Stamford, CT
2. Bethesda, MD
1. Portland, OR

Nice to see Des Moines getting some love. I must admit, even after enduring five months of winter (and a bunch of snow yesterday - April 5), I really like living here.

(ht: Generation Iowa)


The great Mike Stavlund serves up an intriguing post about the "Orthodoxy of Orthopraxy". It's intellectually heavy for a Monday morning, but I gobbled it up nonetheless. Here's an excerpt:

My fear is that-- for me and my friends-- orthopraxy has become the new orthodoxy. That in our strong (and correct!) affirmation of the importance of doing stuff, we have become like the anti-fundamentalist fundamentalists that we smirk at so frequently. The dangerous thing about my elevation of orthopraxy is that the very act of doing so exempts me from needing to do anything about my orthopraxy. It is enough to affirm the theoretical value of orthopraxy, and to then find a comfortable spot in my cozy home where I can be right. Orthopraxy, then, is the new orthodoxy, which requires little from me other than my stalwart intellectual ascent toward the tennets of orthopraxy. Handy, huh?

Sunday, April 5, 2009


April 5 is a day that the Ullestad household celebrates two birthdays...

Allison turns 30 and my endeavor into blogging turns 1.

The video I posted a couple of weeks ago tells you all you need to know about my dear wife. She is a beautiful combination of serious and silly; a duality that I grow more fond of every day. And, since most readers get annoyed with bloggers who brag about how awesome their spouses are...a few things about the blog.

If you would have told me a year ago that a goofy little blog that I started would have over 16,000 hits in 22 countries, I would have laughed. My foray into blogging was mainly a selfish attempt to explore some ideas and see what the blogosphere subculture was all about. I've continued because I enjoy the intellectual and philosophical give-and-take with folks...and because it's a more productive way to kill time than playing Tetris.

In case you're new to the godsnowhere / koinonia party, here are a few of my faves from the old site in the past year:

Confirmation Epiphany - a lengthy treatise on confirmation ministry

Be John - a theological exploration

Our Local Network - introduction to the Unholy Half-Dozen

Christmas Songs - a great way to spend time between Christmas Eve services

The Dark Knight Live Blog - most popular post; most fun to write

The Solas - a rant about the three / five solas

Stein Auf
- an homage to my favorite band

The Votes Are In - my voting criteria for the '08 Presidential election

Apples - recap of one of my favorite days of the year

Home Improvement
- the redecorating of our basement

Godsnowhere? - one of many unsuccessful attempts at explaining the old blog title

Congregational Identity - took the most time to write (the week after Carlson left)

Confirmation Conversation - this one received the most comments

Mexico By The Numbers
- a recap of my favorite guest speakers in Mexico City

Now the Feast and Celebration - enjoying the day Chipotle opened in WDM

In all seriousness, a happy 30th birthday to my beautiful wife...the kids and I love you like crazy. You're amazing!

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Evan's baptism - April 1, 2007 (Palm Sunday)

Anyone who knows me well understands that I am quirky, to say the least. One of my more prominent oddities is my unabashed love for the 1973 Norman Jewison film, "Jesus Christ Superstar". In the winter of my 10th grade year, I came home every day from school, delivered newspapers, and spent the next 2 hours downstairs watching JCS and working out on my imitation Bowflex. (Coincidentally, I don't recall having a lot of luck with the ladies during my sophomore year...hmmm...)

In honor of Palm Sunday (not Palm / Passion Sunday) I offer you the Hosanna from JCS.

A few comments:

  • Early on you get a glimpse of the High Priest Scaffold...innovative
  • No colt or donkey. Perhaps this was a low-budget film? (Ya think?)
  • Where are the cloaks that are supposed to be thrown on the ground? Don't these people check their sources?
  • Ladies & Gentlemen: Caiaphas, Basso Profundo. Nice hat, brosef!
  • Jesus clearly made body surfing popular centuries before rock & roll concerts
  • During the second verse, Peter squinting oddly while Jesus sings. I love how clueless he looks. (As an aside, the adult film industry owes a debt of gratitude to JCS for shining a bright, brilliant light on young Philip Toubus.)
  • Artsy freeze-frame on the "will you die for me" lyric. Classy...
  • Mary keeping her over-acting streak alive by hamming it up every time the camera is on
  • Ted Neeley is a solid Jesus...saw him last year at the Civic Center...the man has a golden throat (or perhaps titanium).
I'd love to hear your thoughts on the awesomeness that is Jesus Christ Superstar.