Friday, September 21, 2007


I must confess that in my most frustrated times in ministry, I have turned for solace to the job listings at, or, or, or even the illustrious list put together by that dude Craig.

Sometimes, (staring at those job postings with their qualifications and prerequisites, and those churches with their programs and statements of faith) I wonder if I could, with any intellectual honesty, continue to do youth ministry, or even work on a church staff at all.

Then I ask myself, "Would I recognize the ideal position if it showed up on one of these sites?" And in response to that, I think I've come up with what I think would be the coolest ministry position ever.

Minister of Questions.
I think I would make a good Minister of Questions.
The guy responsible for asking difficult questions about faith. Questions that need to be asked. Questions that sometimes we are too afraid or too comfortable to ask ourselves. Questions that propel us into a search for something deeper, something fresher, something more real. Questions that actually require truth as their answer.

I would welcome questions from others about my own life and faith, as well. I love them. After all, that's why I'm in the questioning business in the first place! I would work extra hard to make sure that I'm a safe place for people to ask the most scandalous of questions, and offer the most unorthodox of answers for consideration.

I would hold gatherings, large and small, where people could come together to ask and be asked questions (really important ones, and maybe sometimes little fun ones, too). Sometimes I'd answer a question with another question, not to be difficult, but because sometimes the best answer is another question. Sometimes the answers would be life-altering, and would come from the most unlikely people and places. Sometimes we wouldn't really be concerned with answers at all. After all - I'm not the "Answer Guy", I'm the "Question Guy".

When I read about Jesus, and those who interacted with Him, I come across some of the most profound questions in all of life.

"You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Matthew 8:26, Matthew 14:31
"Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?" Matthew 14:3
"Who do people say that I am?" Matthew 16:13, Mark 8:27; Luke 9:18
"But what about you? Who do you say I am?" Matthew 16:15
"What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" Matthew 16:26
"Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?" Matthew 18:21
"Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" Matthew 19:16
"What are you looking for?" John 1:38
"What do you want me to do for you?" Matthew 20:32; Mark 10:36, 10:51; Luke 18:41
"Who is my neighbor?" Luke 10:29
"What is truth?" John 18:38

Question after question after question. And sometimes, the question IS the answer. Sometimes the question is such that, to attempt an answer would be feeble and trite.

A couple of days ago I came across the web page of a church that had an obscenely long list of people on their "Staff Bios" page. Like 40 people. Their list included a "Director of Operations", an "Operations Coordinator", an "Operations Service Manager", and an "Operations Weekend Manager".

Now, I don't know what any of those jobs mean, but I promise you this:
If they hire me - I'll certainly ask.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Big Church

Back home.

Plenty of things to discuss - but before that post comes this quick one.

I'm co-teaching with the pastor in big church this Sunday. It's what we little youth ministry peons like to call, "the Show".
(For those of you who don't know, "Youth Ministry" is what churches call child care for kids that aren't cute anymore.)

We're in the middle of a series on seeing the world/life/culture/whatever the way God sees it. Worldview, basically. Which I guess, no matter who you are, translates into: Seeing the world the way we see that God sees it.

Nevertheless our topic for this week is, generally, Church/Faith/Mission. There are three basic questions we are asking about the topic that perhaps you might be able to help me with.
1) What was/is God's intention for the church to begin with.
2) What, if anything, has gone wrong.
3) Is God doing anything to restore #1?
Discuss. And do it in the comments so's I can see it. I'd LOVE to hear all of your thoughts, no matter how big or small.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Day 7 - the vacation begins....

Don't ask me what this picture's all about. It was the coolest one on the first page of images when I googled "Denton, TX" - which is where I find myself tonight.

This morning I was awakened by the sound of sirens outside my thousand-year-old Memphis hotel room. Then about two hours later I was awakened again by the alarm on my cell phone way across the room. Man, I need a vacation.

Oh wait....

So it's day 7. Day 1 of the vacation portion of my vacation. This morning Abby and I got up, checked out of our hotel, and decided we'd head out to Graceland before leaving town. Like you do when you're just stopping overnight in Memphis. I mean, what kind of vacationer goes through Memphis (twice, mind you) and doesn't stop at Graceland - am I right? Well, since we were already on Union Ave. (where Mark Cohn allegedly saw the ghost of Elvis), we decided to stop here on the way out:
That's right - Sun Studios.
The hallowed ground where Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and B.B. King did most of their early recording work.

We were looking for a place to eat breakfast, until we saw that they had a little cafe there at the Studios - so we stopped in for a moment. It turns out that the best we could get for breakfast was a cup of the worlds strongest coffee (no kidding) and a Moon Pie (also, no kidding). So we did. Screw you Weight Watchers!

Our arrival coincided with the start of the next tour, so we ponied up $10 each and joined the queue. The tour featured a small museum with memorabilia from the earliest days of the Studio, including a single-track recording console, and a machine that actually cut the grooves into the master copy of a record. Our tour guide was a pretty cool guy....

(Sidebar: he said to me, "Whoa - for a second there I thought you were my friend Craig Brewer. He made this movie called Hustle and Flow - he used to come in here a lot before he got famous. Anyway, you totally look like him. You could be his stunt double." Although - I'm not sure why a director would need a stunt double - maybe I don't quite understand moviemaking as much as I thought I did. Hustle and Flow, huh? That was a great flick. Oh, here's Craig Brewer doing an impression of me being a complete tool:

Pretty good huh?


he even played some clips of early Sun Records recordings on the tour.
Downstairs we stood in the actual recording studio where all those guys made their first recordings. It's also the studio where U2 recorded three tracks for Rattle and Hum, namely When Love Comes To Town, Angel Of Harlem, and Love Rescue Me. Green Day was scheduled to come in and record later today - but really, who gives a chunk about Green Day?

After the tour we had our coffee and Moon Pies (6 points), and spend a wad of dough on merchandise. Coolest merch ever. Then we decided to head over to Graceland.

Graceland sucks. It's $25/person for a self-guided tour. I don't love the King that much. I'm more of a Johnny Cash kind of guy. Unfortunately, his house burned to the ground earlier this year, so one takes what one can get - which for me, turned out to be a couple of pictures from across the street, and a souvenir magnet for the wife. Mission accomplished. I've seen all I need to see of Graceland. Moving on.

That's it, really. We ate some car sandwiches (5 points), got some gas and pointed our noses toward Denton, TX via West Memphis, Little Rock, and Texarkana. We're staying with Jenny and Dylan (thanks guys!) until Sunday and visiting some friends locally while we relax.

We're meeting Shane and Tara at their place tomorrow, where Shane has promised to cook for us from the Weight Watchers cookbook (thought I forgot, didn't ya?). Cory will also be there. Should be a great time!

Thursday we're finally getting our Billy-fix. He's taking us to his movie theater to see 3:10 To Yuma, with perhaps some caffeinated beverages to follow. Bones may be thrown.

Friday, the Bagboy is house-sitting for some lucky schmo with an 80-inch projection screen tv, so it looks like we will wind up there for - well, anything you can think up to do with one of those. Bones may be thrown here, as well.

Saturday is the David Bazan show at Dan's Silverleaf, where Jenny works. That's entertainment!

Sunday finds us having a late lunch with Shane and Tara on our way out of town.

Those are the plans, and they are, of course, subject to change without notice.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Grand Rapids (alternatively, Mars Hill or high water...)

Midnight last night - get home from wedding.

1:30 a.m. - Finally get to bed.

3:42 a.m. - Rise and Shine!

5:15 a.m. - On the road again.

9:30 a.m. - Arrive at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan an hour and a half early, and literally cuss myself for needing that extra sleep 6 hours ago.

10:30 a.m. - Commence geek-out.

Listen - I'm the first guy to say that church is not a show, or a performance. And at Mars Hill, it's really not. But I can't imagine a time when I was this excited about front row seats at church! In my mind, the front row is where the offering plates are stored, or the place you sit after the offering if you want to make an announcement from the stage. Today - it was within spitting distance of the stage at Mars Hill. So close - we were inside the ring of speakers.

It was pretty much what I expected - simple, stripped down, un-flashy. I think they have the same amateur hand-painted mural of Noah's ark on the wall of their "Preschool Pier" that we have at Copperfield. The building is an old mall that somebody donated, and it appears that there have been very few renovations to the property. "The Shed" is the room you see above, where the worship gathering takes place. It's set up in the round, with instruments and musicians all around the outside of the stage, facing inward. The ceilings are low throughout the room, much lower than it looks in the picture - and the screen-cube-thingy hangs just above the head of whoever's speaking.

I guess I was impressed by the fact that it's really obvious how little they care about making a show of things. Their facility can't really be considered "nice", at all. There isn't a single sign that says Mars Hill Bible Church. In fact, you don't even know what the building is until you walk up to the doors, and it's stenciled on the glass. They are NOT advertising - and they are not concerned with attraction strategies. They break every megachurch rule in the book. It seems clear that the folks at Mars Hill are more interested in doing something real for the world than for Mars Hill. And I think that is what is attractive about them. Sure, the worship and teaching is amazing, insightful, and seriously hip (Rob Bell was sporting a buzz-cut and sideburns; they played Bob Marley's Redemption Song in a seemingly endless loop before the service), but a lot of the people seemed to really be tuned in. Like Rob speaks for them, instead of to them.

The teaching was about how the gospel shouldn't be something that weighs people down with guilt, and responsibility to be good enough. The gospel is "good news" - and the news is that it's not about getting there.... Jesus is already "there" and if you're in him, you are too. It's about the kind of freedom you can only know when you realize that whatever it is you're trying to do has already been done for you.

After the teaching, I had a brief audience with the rabbi, and mentioned to him that we had driven from Houston to have the Mars Hill experience, and he introduced me to his friend Alan, who had just come in from England - which, he made sure to mention, was farther than me. LOL. When I mentioned Houston, he said - "Oh yeah, I'm going to be in... uhhh..."

"Dallas" I said. "We'll see you there." And that was that.

By the way, Rob Bell? That's one seriously tall, and seriously skinny dude.
Also, Rob - the jig is up on the cool glasses. You took them off, and forgot to put them back on to read. Listen - just between you and me? I think they're purely cosmetic. It's cool, though, man, I've got some myself.

Jordan and Vicki, the really nice couple who sat next to us invited us over to their place for lunch, which was really, really nice. Only, I think she read the look on my face as being totally creeped out, instead of the utter joyful shock that I intended it to express, and then tried to backtrack. Either way, they invited us to hang out with them at the church-wide celebration this afternoon at the park down the street. Even gave us their phone number and e-mail address. Unfortunately, the only thing we could conceive of was finally getting some much-needed sleep, so we had to pass on both.

Lastly (and I realize this is such a vanity post, and that absolutely NONE of you will have read this far, BUT), if you have never visited Grand Rapids, I highly recommend it. It was a beautiful day, clear skies, breezy, about 70 degrees, and not at all humid. Around dinnertime, it got as cool as 58 in some places. Abby also remarked about how clean and quiet it feels around here. We think we could actually live here....

... during the summer.

Tomorrow: Chicago, Gary, and Memphis (redux).

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Round on both ends.... hi in the middle....

Dateline - Columbus, Ohio.
Not much to brag about today. We drove alot. Through Knoxville, Lexington, and Cincinnati, and ended up in Columbus. We actually made really good time, but then had trouble finding a hotel room that didn't cost a fortune, and didn't look like it rented by the hour, so we checked in around 8:30.
That was kind of a hassle, and hacked me off a little, to be honest.
But I got over it just in time to watch the Saints put on the worst display of football ineptitude in history (so far).

The lesson, then, for today is twofold:
1) Book your hotels online ahead of time using
2) Whenever you blitz the corner - you cannot let Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne behind your defense! I mean - that's a no-brainer, man!

Until tomorrow, friends - shalom.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Dateline- Nashville

Ahhh - Nashville. Not the stunning Mississippi-river-side skyline of Memphis, but it does have the Batman building, so I'll call it a tie.

We left about 8 a.m. this morning, and arrived here at about 10:30 p.m.
On the way here we stopped a couple of times for my new favorite delicacy - car sandwiches. Mmmmmm. Very soon, I'm certain the weight will begin just falling off.

We also drove by the campus of ETBU to check out new developments at the ol' alma mater. We didn't actually get out of the car, but we did notice lots of nice, new, graven images for donors to take credit for.

Remember the little road-gems I promised you? Try this one on for size:
We stop at a public rest area right outside Little Rock, Arkansas, and what do we encounter there?
Idaho Senator Larry Craig.
No, not really.
According to Abby, there was - in the women's restroom - a rather large black woman having a grumpy in one of the stalls. That wouldn't be so weird, except that she was singing, loudly, "Que sera, sera..."

Only in America.

A new twist on the Mars Hill debacle:
Turns out the itinerary for Saturday's wedding includes the wedding from 2-3, after that - photos; after that - a trip off-site (???) for some MORE photos; and finally a reception until 11 p.m. that night. So our options are:
a) Skip Grand Rapids, Mars Hill, Rob Bell, and the first week of the great new series they're doing.
b) Leave after the reception and arrive in Grand Rapids around 6 a.m. (all after having been wedding-ing all day).
c) Stay through the reception, spend the night, leave the next morning around 4 a.m. to arrive in Grand Rapids in time for the 11 a.m. Mars Hill Service.

So - you make the call.

I'm freakin' tired! Headed out at 8 again tomorrow. Destination: Knoxville, Cincinnatti, Colombus.


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Thelma and Lewis

Well, the butt crack of dawn tomorrow finds Abby and I on the road for the next 12 days. Vagabonds, we are. Roamers. Wanderers. Strangers in a strange land. We're Jack and Jill Kerouac. Hope and Crosby. The Griswolds. Mickey and Mallory Knox. Bonnie and Clyde. We're Thelma and Louise, and Lewis and Clark. We're Thelma and Lewis. We hope to make it as far as Memphis, and maybe Nashville tomorrow night. Ambitious, I know, but we are spoiling for it.

We are armed with new CD's that we checked out from the library for FREE! (The library! Now THERE'S an idea I hope will catch on!). We've got Freakonomics the Audiobook to listen to, and we've got Shane's copy of the Velvet Elvis Audiobook, as well. We've got a cooler full of well-planned, portioned out healthy snacks (did I mention the Weight Watchers thing we're doing? Man. Whole other post....), deli turkey, and PB&J. We've got a Nintendo DS, an old-school Game Boy, an Atari Lynx, and a Sega Game gear. The iPod is fully stocked. We've got an empty credit card and a full tank of gas.

This will either be the all-time best experience for an 8 1/2 month married couple - or the worst idea since Flavor of Love 3. Stay tuned right here to find out! I mean, obviously I'll be blogging from the road, and keeping you up to date with all the excitement, like - "Oh, honey! Is that a Hawaii license plate? How DO they get over here?" - and other gems.

And if you're wondering whatever happened with that whole Mars Hill debacle - it looks like we're going to leave from Cleveland right after the wedding reception on Saturday night (thank you, sweetheart!) and boogie on over to Grand Rapids for a Sunday MORNING service. Take THAT Mars Hill Bible Church. You better be ready for J.T. - because I'm bringin' the tired, and I'm bringin' it strong. Word.

For those of you in the greater Dallas/Ft. Worth/Denton area - gird up thy loins, for the time of your visitation is surely at hand.

Amen, and amen.