Saturday, August 30, 2008

Cleaning Up

So about a dozen or so folks showed up at the church this morning for a clean-up of the grounds and gutters of the church.

What is it about working side by side that lets folks talk and fellowship in ways that sitting around a table just doesn't do?

So as we cleared weeds, trimmed and cut trees, spread grass seed, used a leaf blower on the gutters (no thank you, I don't do heights!), and carted stuff off to the brush dump (not to mention partaking of some aMAZing coffee cakes during the break) something happened to remind us of one part of what church is: people gathering together, working at our own best pace, sharing the joy of each other's company, to make the community a little better.

Thanks All!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Twenty Days Out - I was off gaming

So I finally get back to my blog and I see that it has been twenty days since my last post. Oops.

Part of what took me away was GenCon. For those who don't know, it is an annual gathering of somewhere north of 25,000 people at the Indianapolis Convention Center for the purpose of games. There are card games, board games, role-playing games (both pen and paper & live-action), miniatures games (Napoleonics and American Civil War, World War I biplanes, WWII tanks and infantry, futuristic settings), electronic games, seminars and workshops on making and publishing games, as well as ones on writing and publishing fiction.

The dangerous part is when they turn the exhibition hall of the convention center into a massive game store, with booths selling every type of game imaginable. My wallet often whimpered.

This convention was started in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, forty-one years ago, in the garage of one of the innovators of Dungeons and Dragons, the late Gary Gygax. It was called the Geneva Convention. Since there was already one of those, they called it GenCon for short.

I have played games my whole life. As a child it was Candyland, Conentration and Jack Straws. Later, my family often gathered around Scrabble, Boggle, Big Boggle (we are a wordy bunch), Pictionary and Trivial Pursuit. I started playing Dungeons and Dragons in the fourth grade and have enjoyed it and other role-playing games for many years. More recently games like the Ticket to Ride series, Memoir '44, Apples to Apples, or TransAmerica have become favorites.

Why games, and what do games have to do with faith or ministry?

First, they are fun. They can be social events and recreational. Play Apples to Apples with a group and try not to laugh at some of the cards played, I dare you.

Second, they are challenging. Many really good games are strategic puzzles to work through, opportunities to do problem solving without the stress of being real-life problems.

Third, they are educational. Sometimes the game itself teaches something, and sometimes the mechanics of the game help the players learn resource management and the importance of good choices. One of the seminars I took this year was on game design, as I am trying to put together games to help teach the Bible and the faith to kids and adults.

Fourth, they engage and stretch the imagination. Role-playing games allow people to play a character as much like or dislike themselves as they wish. Pictionary and Scattergories work the part of the brain that makes connections, recognizes patterns, or comes up with new ways of seeing or describing something. Even a game of chess requires the mind to go through possibilities of "what if?"

So that took a few of the days while I was gone. And a vacation usually takes twice as long to recover from than the time off. But I hope to post more frequently soon. I'll also let you know how the game design is going.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Why I Love Comedians

Saying I love comedians is a gross generalization. There are plenty that I don't find funny, that I hear as either inane or offensive. But as a general group, I love comedians. I guess I am kind of like Linus van Pelt, of Peanuts fame, who declared, "I love mankind, it's people I can't stand."

I love comedians for several reasons. As one could guess from the name of the blog, I love to laugh. Laughter is good. But I love comedians because we are in the same business. I don't mean entertainment, or making people laugh, or being in front of crowds speaking (although there are great correlations there).

In no particular order, comedians do the following things that are important to preaching (in my own humble estimation):
  • They use various combinations of skillful timing, well turned phrases, gestures, body language, eyes and facial expressions to help get across their point (or joke or story or whatever it is), so that a connection is made with the audience, which is what all preachers hope to do with their congregations.
  • They take the ordinary parts of life and flip them on their heads, a very Gospel way of doing things.
  • They take the taboo, dirty, unseemly, "we don't talk about those things" parts of life and they rub our noses in them. Seems strange for a pastor to like this, and I don't mean it in a prurient way. What they often accomplish is popping the balloon of our own personal and social hypocrisies, a very Prophets way of doing things.
  • They take the difficult and painful parts of life, expose them to some fresh air, and offer some catharsis, a very Psalms of Lament way of doing things.
  • They make us think about life in new and different ways, a very Letters of Paul way of doing things.
  • They often find a way to turn their own pain, grief, and difficulties into laughter, a very Psalms of Praise, Prophets, Gospel and Letters of Paul, okay most of the Bible, way of doing things.
So thank you to all the comedians who have taught me timing, encouraged me to be a fool for God, helped me defuse anxiety and get across difficult lessons to people through humor and laughter, and made my day better.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Praying and Laying on Hands

I got a phone call from a church member the other day. She asked me, "What does our church think about laying on hands?" Not the usual conversation starter. I told her that while it isn't something we do often, it isn't too strange for us to do, either.

After some more discussion about the hows and the whens, we looked at inviting people who wanted to receive special prayer and those who wanted to offer special prayer to stick around after worship in the sanctuary as everyone else went down to coffee hour. We did it and the response was wonderful.

About 10 or so people wanted special prayer, and about a dozen or so wanted to offer prayer (or were waiting for their spouse who was receiving, so they stayed and prayed as well). Those asking for special prayer formed a ring (not really a circle, because the area at the front of the church wouldn't allow for proper geometry), holding hands or doing the one-armed hug with their neighbors. Those wishing to pray formed a ring around the inner group, with their left hand on the shoulder of the person next to them, and their right hand on the shoulder of the person in the inner ring in front of them.

I offered a prayer, inviting God's Spirit, remembering God's love in the touch of our neighbor, and other things that seemed appropriate in the moment.

We did this again the following week, and it was well attended and well received again. What was missing was a box of tissues. Several people had tears in their eyes afterwards, both those praying and those receiving.

So now we are exploring some other traditions of healing within our faith that can be done in such a setting.

What amazing things happen when someone gets a little inspiration, passes it on to someone else, and they act on it!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Why Sideways?

I get the feeling that more often than not, I come at scripture sideways, at least from the comments and funny looks I get from colleagues in the ministry.

To be honest, head on orthodoxy gives me a queasy feeling.

And so often, too often, the Gospel makes us look again at our lives and our world from an upside down or sideways angle. So coming at scripture sideways, for me, means doing to it what it keeps doing to me.

And aren't we supposed to be doers of the Word, and not merely hearers?

Tom Waits

To say Tom Waits is an interesting musician, songwriter or actor is to understate the case.

Some of you may remember him singing "A Little Drop of Poison" as the piano playing Capt. Hook in the bar run by the ugly step-sister in Shrek 2. Or you might have seen him in his uncredited role as the disabled vet in the station in The Fisher King.

As many have pointed out, his lyrics are often more spiritual than his gruff exterior and gravel pit enunciation would suggest. Here is one of my current favorites. Thanks, Brandon, for the suggestion a while back.

You Can Never Hold Back Spring

You can never hold back spring
You can be sure that I will never
Stop believing
The blushing rose will climb
Spring ahead or fall behind
Winter dreams the same dream
Every time

You can never hold back spring
Even though you've lost your way
The world keeps dreaming of spring

So close your eyes
Open you heart
To one who's dreaming of you
You can never hold back spring

Remember everything that spring
Can bring
You can never hold back spring