Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best of 2009

I like ‘best of’ lists, but hate when they are confined to the top 10 or 5 or whatever.  So here is my ‘best of 2009’  list.

Best Movies

District 9- You all know I love sci-fi, but this was ‘real sci-fi’ with a point to it.  I can’t remember the last action movie I saw that was actually unpredictable.  Solid and realistic characters with a thoughtful story that causes the view to ask questions and get involved in the story.  The effects were great and done at a low budget.  Great Movie!

That’s it for movies.  You might ask me about others, but there were a lot of movies that I didn’t see this year, and a lot I won’t.  Some people say that Blindside was good, but I know that it’s not.  It has Sandra Bullock in it, and she is only in bad movies.  Anyway.

Best TV

Well, I still feel like there are creative and fun shows coming out all of the time.  So there will be a few more in this list.

Always Sunny- I know, I know.  It can be pretty darned raunchy.  But it is creative and the characters are amazing.  Frank Reynolds is one of the most amazingly awful characters since George Costanza’s dad.  He makes George’s dad look like a saint as well.

Psych- This show grew on me and is now easily one of my favorites.  The banter of the two main characters is on the same level for me as classic Turk and JD humor from Scrubs.  The plots are fun mysteries that you can figure out along the way, but the episodes are actually re-watchable due to the humor.  My sis recently bought me season 1 on dvd for Christmas.  If you watch James Roday’s audition footage in the special features section, you will see that he pretty much created the character himself, without any real direction.  Amazing.

Lost- It won me back this year.  I was drifting  because of meandering plot lines the last 2 seasons, but now, possibly because they announced that this is the last season, it got very focused.  Great show.

Colbert Report- It is totally worth mentioning how Stephen Colbert (I’m sure with great writing help) single handedly keeps his persona growing and getting better.  Colbert on a daily basis cranks out perfectly timed comedy and satire.  I look forward to watching his show every day.  Still. 

House- I love this show, and it entertains me without any of the ongoing plot lines which only usually make it better.  Hugh Laurie is one of the most talented people anywhere.


Cloud Cult- I know their cd came out in 08, but I saw them live this year and their live show is one of the most compelling and interesting musical live experiences I have ever been to.  I have never felt so comfortable seeing a show.  They were musically tight, but also friendly, welcoming and fun.  They danced and sang along in the audience for the two opening band’s sets as well. 


Those are my best of’s for now.  I have more to say about my worst of’s and my personal year in review.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jesus Camp

I’ve been avoiding seeing this movie for the past couple of years only to be goaded into it again and again by friends who say: “You’ve got to see this.”  


For those of you who haven’t seen it, it is extremely interesting no matter what side of things you sit on.  It is a documentary that follows three kids and a children’s pastor through several worship experiences and camp experiences. 

The children’s pastor, Becky Fischer, is a Pentecostal preacher who boasts of giving hour-long sermons to children ages 5-12 (at least, by their looks, that is how old they seem to be.)  The sermons and themes of the services and activities talked about sin, repentance, politics, the supreme court, the president, abortion, creationism, science and more. 

Because it is pentecostal, you do see many kids speaking in tongues and openly weeping, dancing, yelling, and singing during the services. 

The film is pretty darn balanced and unbiased by the filmmakers to the point where, Becky Fischer uses the film as a resume to show what she can do in ministry, AND atheist and agnostic websites use it as proof to show that Christianity is ‘brainwash.’  For this balanced filmmaking alone, it is an interesting movie to watch. 

It also got a ton of notoriety because it has some short scenes with Ted Haggard and was released right during his controversial scandal in Colorado Springs.

This documentary took me through a range of emotions.  I think I was on edge because I felt like the kids were going to be ‘used’ and ‘exploited’ by the filmmakers in order to over sell the plot of the movie.  I was extremely pleased that this never seemed to happen. 

Through the movie the kids are being interviewed about their church, their musical choices, their home school, their camp experiences etc. and the kids all come across as extremely articulate and well-spoken.  Every kid interviewed was a thoughtful and interesting child.  I expected that they were going to be portrayed as soulless zombies, maybe this is my own prejudice which I think is more directed at the media and filmmakers than evangelicals or pentecostals as a whole. 

Personally, I would have loved to have any of those kids hanging out with my family.  They were all very well behaved and kind to each other, and were still kids who played and were silly and fun.  So kudos to the kids and to the filmmakers.

That being said, I was blown away at what Fischer does in the name of Children’s ministry.  Preaching for an hour.  Making young young children repent of their sins.  Demanding that they open their mouths and speak in tongues.  Bringing in speakers who would give sermons about how it is the kids job to be a generation that ends abortion.  Making them chant ‘righteous judges’ at the end of the abortion talk. 

From what was shown on the video, every sermon and topic that they talked about was ‘against’ something.  They were against abortion, sin, judges, the government, the worldly powers (Fischer, at the beginning, gave a sermon about this ‘disgusting, icky world we live in’).  They were against secular movies and music.  Against, against, against.  They were never ‘for’ anything at all. 

It was interesting that they gave a boy named Levi, who I am guessing was 10 or 11 years old an opportunity to preach at the camp.  He was every bit as articulate as the adult speakers were.  And he was more positive about his topic than any of the other speakers were as he talked about them being the ‘key generation.’

Personally, I do believe that the camp was manipulative.  I think that the subject matter was far too serious and old for most of the kids in the room.  But I do believe that the filmmakers made a big mistake in the movie by branding this camp as evangelical rather than pentecostal.  The fact that they linked this pentecostal movement with Haggard’s church and thus the millions and millions of evangelicals in America made this movie more inflammatory.  This type of pentecostal children’s ministry is practiced all over the country in pentecostal churches which are only a segment of the evangelical community, but the vast majority of ‘evangelical’ churches are far more moderate than Fischer. 

Talking to little children about repentance is pretty rough too and I personally think quite damaging to a young psyche.  For all of the negative deconstruction and manipulation, it was a wonder how the kids were so much more balanced than the adults.  In the reviews that I read of this movie, several talked about how horrible the abortion message was.  Personally, again, the kids were too young to be told that they are the generation that has to fix the problem.  (I imagined the kids yelling back to the speaker saying: ‘why doesn’t your generation do anything constructive about it?’)

I wasn’t quite as frustrated by that message as I was about the speaker telling the kids that their generation should fix it and getting so political as to talk about Bush and the Righteous Judges, and telling them that one third of the people that would have been at that camp were dead because their parents aborted them, and all of that stuff.  In fact, each of the speakers seemed to be trying to get a positive response from the few adults in the backs of the room and parents more than they were trying to get a response from the kids.  I felt like all of them really wanted to be preaching to adults with these exact same messages. 

The movie makes me feel gross after watching it.  Not because the whole evangelical community is this way, but more because these are such fun and interesting kids that seem to be stuck under the agenda of their parents and church, and they might totally miss the gospel because of all they are told that they need to be against.

How many good and solid people are being told so much about what they need to be against that they really are never for anything?  Just wondering.

The comic scene near the beginning of the movie that really sets you against Fischer though is when she is preaching about America and saying how Muslim parents train their kids from the age of 5 to fast during the month of Ramadan, while “americans just sit around on their couches and they are so fat, and lazy.”  Fischer is quite overweight herself and this seems comical to me. 

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Whole Tiger Thing

I’ll admit that I wasn’t Tiger’s biggest fan.  Although I concede that he is the best golfer ever, at a tougher time to stand out than there has ever been.  He transcended the sport and made every other player better.  He is not only the best scorer, he is the best putter, has the best short game, the best distance control, and he can hit it as far as anyone on tour when he wants.  There seems to be very little that he can’t do. 

I wasn’t his biggest fan because I do prefer Phil.  I am a Sun Devil who had a couple of really cool interactions with Phil and he will always be my favorite player to watch.  I wasn’t his biggest fan because when I saw him as a young star at the Phoenix Open more than a decade ago, I saw him curse out a comeraman that really didn’t do anything. 

I’ve also never been a fan of the fire that he shows when he plays golf.  Not because he is passionate, but because he beats himself up as well as others when he plays poorly.  He can be very crass and unsportsmanlike in a sport that is known for sportsmanship. 

Even though I don’t cheer for him when Phil is in the mix, I have loved to watch his amazing feats.  I’ve seen him demolish the field, come from behind, and hit miraculous shots and putts at the exactly right time.  I have never seen another athlete in any sport who can summon a perfect performance exactly when he needs it.

This whole thing about his marriage is sad.  I don’t pretend to know what happened.  Over a dozen women have come forward to say that they were romantically involved with him in the week after his mysterious car accident.  I will assume that some of those women are dishonestly looking for publicity.  You can be an instant celebrity right now if you add your name to the Tiger list, so I’m sure that several of these women are just opportunists.  But it has now become clear that Tiger has cheated on his wife for a long period of time.  It is also becoming somewhat clear that she is finding out about these infidelities at about the same time that we are. 

I was shocked to see another golfer on TV today talking about how Tiger has valued his family above so many other things and will be a better family man for this.  I am shocked to hear how many people are offering compassion to him at this time, when he is the one who really does deserve blame here.  I just read an article on where the writer said how sorry he feels for Tiger to have to try and salvage things while the media is going crazy and the helicopters are buzzing over his house all day long.  I’m not saying that there won’t be a time for people to be there for Tiger, but the people offering the condolence are people who are jockeying to get into position for the new order of Tiger. 

I was sickened to hear Oprah say that she was going to reach out to Tiger.  It just reeks of self-promotion to think that having him on your show, or having a phone conversation will help anything besides her own ratings. 

Right now, what Tiger needs are people to tell him the truth.  I’m hoping that Elin, her family and Tiger’s mom are all making sure that TIger knows that he has victimized her, and his family.  Right now, someone needs to address the fact that Tiger has more money than any athlete ever, a bigger foundation, a bigger corporation, bigger endorsements, more fame, more accomplishments, a beautiful wife and healthy kids, every material object that you could ever want; but with all of this stuff, it hasn’t been enough for Tiger.  I don’t know if anyone is in a mentoring position over Tiger, or if there is anyone that Tiger looks up to, but isn’t this what happens to athletes and celebs that reach the top.  Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson, so many politicians who have tasted the power, Madonna, so many others; they all have gone to the same crazy place, a place where there is no where to look up to and so you deify yourself.  You convince yourself that your decisions are right because after all, it is you who made them, and you are the best. 

In my mind there is only one thing that can happen here that will change things.  Tiger needs to find a relationship with Christ.  I don’t care if it is corny or cliché, but Tiger needs to know that he can still look up to something or someone.  Crying on Oprah’s couch might help his new media problem.  Going to counseling might help his impulse control, but it doesn’t seem that impulse control is the problem when it is a serial behavior. 

Tiger will probably never ready my words or hear my voice, but if I could talk to him, I would love to talk about not only that God can and will forgive him, but how God has given Tiger all that he has, all the talent, all the privilege, all of the blessing.  And God wants Tiger to choose Him, not for the sake of obedience, not for the sake of justice, but for the reason that God created Tiger to love Him.  In my mind, Tiger will never overcome this problem and its consequences by will power, will power doesn’t keep you from doing things that you seem to be so willing to do.  Tiger needs a new will, and it needs to be submitted not to Tiger, Earl, or anyone else but to God.  That is going to be where the will power is. 

I don’t want Tiger to be a lifelong tabloid mess like Britney, or all of the other freak shows that are highlighted in those pages.  I want to see Tiger be the person who sees the need for change and actually makes it happen, by giving up the leadership of his own life to a higher and better power.  If anyone can do it, shouldn’t it be Tiger?  He only seems to do things 100%, and I hope that the advice he gets is not from Oprah who tells him that he has the strength to deal with this, or the Dalai Lama who tells him that other people can give him the strength of the universe.  I hope that someone who can authentically represent Jesus will be there to be a guide to him.


I visited a church this Sunday and had a weird reaction.  I should first say that everything at this church was first rate in quality.  The band, sound system, the preparation of the speaker, the building, the parking attendants were all pretty much as high of quality as you can get.  Their hospitality and greeting was first rate.  Their printed materials looked awesome.  The ushers showed us to our seat in the crowded auditorium very ably. 

I can only guess at the numbers, but there were probably about 1000-1200 in the room, maybe more.  It was obvious that the things that they wanted to be done well, were really being done extremely well.  It was also obvious that people were attracted to this approach.  So I should say “Kudos” for them.  The band played a couple of songs that I’m sure are the hottest new worship songs, not one missed note, all of the singers were perfectly on pitch, smiling with perfect smiles, wearing matching clothes, attractive. 

It’s a funny side note to me that I didn’t react positively or negatively to any of this when I saw it.  It was 100% exactly what I expected.  I knew that this was a growing mega church, and this is exactly what I expected to see.  I just walked in thinking: “where am I going to sit?” and “when is the music going to be over?”  (I’m not too sure why this is, but I am really getting more and more bored with worship music.  It is so ‘me’ focused, loud, and unsingable in high modern registers that it actually distracts me from worship and frustrates me greatly.)

Anyway, I opened up my “Worship Folder” and read the inside page.  It was beautiful and glossy, well designed and “simple” to read and look at.  On the inside page, the entire page was devoted to one list called: “What to expect today:” 

It said that you can expect 5 things:  “1.  the band will play 3 loud songs, 2. someone will come up to pray and say hi, 3. a pastor will do a talk, 4. we’ll put connection cards and offerings in the buckets, 5. somebody will say bye… after 70 minutes is over.”

That’s all the inside page said, in huge letters. This was a glossy and nicely printed folder that is handed out every week of the year. 

The person who gave the announcements told the congregation that the service and small groups is all this church does.  The small group materials are in a bag in the back that you can pick up for free.  It’s a small group in a bag. 

Now, obviously the leaders at this church have read: “Simple Church.” and have taken it to heart.  This was as simple as it gets.  I will clarify that the music was first rate and the speaker was not only well prepared, but also gave a strong message about money and giving.  (Which is a message that I am always glad to hear when I am visiting a church.  Because I need better perspective on how to speak effectively about money issues.)  It was all well done, perfectly polished. 

Here is my gripe though.  The only people on the stage were the musicians and the speaker.  No one else was highlighted from the congregation.  There was exactly zero art or inspiration that was a part of the service.  To me this is the equivalent of going to see a good choir and watching them sing only tv show themes with little harmony, all in unison.  It’s like going to an art class and leaving with only the knowledge of how to draw that turtle that is on the back of matchbooks and magazines.  It’s like buying a new best-seller and realizing that it is a rehash of the “sixth sense” movie and you already know all of the plot twists and intricacies.  It’s like going to a great burger place and being offered a McDonalds cheeseburger.  All of it is easily palatable for the masses.  It’s all been proven to work once, so it is being repeated over and over. 

Taking away the art, taking away the flavor, taking away the mystery, taking away the gifts of the non musically or theologically trained, is this what church should be?  It seems to me that if we take away the substance, we are claiming EITHER that substance is not an integral part of real faith, OR that  real people are too dumb or too simple or are unworthy of substance.  It’s like inviting them to Thanksgiving dinner and then seating them at the kids’ table.  By doing this, are we insulting the Gospel or the People or both? 

It’s crazy to me that people seem to be so OK with this.  There’s part of me that wants to tell them to feel insulted.  I want to tell them to go somewhere where their intellect and artistic senses are valued. 

That’s part of what I want to create.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Mission Statement

Jerry McGuire created one, it got him fired.  His was controversial and meaningful enough that people cared not only enough to read it, but to respond. 

I recently read a great article about mission statements.  In it, the author talked about how lame most mission statements are.  They are huge, unwieldy and communicate nothing to people who are not already in “the club.”  Will Mancini in his blog, talks about how this affects churches.  It seems like every church wants to communicate Rick Warren’s 5 Purposes of the Purpose Driven Church into their mission statement.  So churches either have all of these huge statements about Fellowship, Discipleship, Worship, Ministry and Mission all sounding to the unchurched the way that a big corporate mission statement talking about the “integrating of infrastructures, and the synergy of economically incorporated networks” sound to me. 

It’s all “blah blah blah”.  So the question is, how can our mission statement mean anything to us and to the people that we are in the midst of?  How can it set the tone of what we are doing and the way that people experience it?  How can it inspire us to do what is originally important to us and not get distracted to try and do everything and be everything to everyone? 

It makes me imagine that while every church seems to have a mission statement that they communicate.  Every church also has a functional Mission Understanding.  By this I mean that for many churches that I have seen, the mission statement really changes little to nothing of what they are doing, it doesn’t inspire the creation of anything new and it doesn’t limit the distractions, it just is.  However, each of these churches do have a Philosophical Functional Mission Understanding, a usually unspoken set of priorities that they live by.  So while their mission statement might include the 5 purposes, their understanding is summed up better by: “we continue to do the programs that got us to where we are and strive to do better.”  Nobody would every say this out loud, but it ends up being the theme by how visions are cast.  This is why, to me, making a mission statement is usually a waste of time. 

I have been in tons of meetings talking about statements and the semantics of how we can communicate what we are about.  I have spoken up often to say: “it is a waste of time to do this if we don’t allow this statement to change or modify who we are.”  It makes no sense to me to change your mission statement so that you can continue to do what you are doing anyway. 

This is why the 5 purposes are so popular.  ANYTHING that a church does can be jammed under one of those headings.  It is also a way of trying to define and rationalize what you are already doing as important.  Then you can say: this massive children’s program that we threw together fulfills the role of worship and fellowship.  So it is worth doing. 

Over 15 years ago, the term BHAG or Big Hairy Audacious Goal was coined by Collins and Porras.  Their intention was to stop making weak, all-inclusive mission statements and to have a goal that people would work toward.  They theorized that people work harder and more effectively when the goal is big, but also quantifiable. 

Lublin in her article says: Microsoft came up with probably the most well-known BHAG, "A computer on every desk and in every home, all running Microsoft software." Amazon has a great one for its Kindle, too: "Every book ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds."

Google’s Mission Statement is: “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

These goals are all huge.  They are all unbelievably big.  I imagine that they were all suggested and they laughed at a bit due to the size and scope of the ambition. 

Of course I don’t know the inside stories of these huge companies, but I imagine that you write software differently and market it differently if you believe that potentially it could be on every computer in the world.  I imagine that you design and work with the kindle differently if you know that you need to get the rights to digitize every book, and translate them to any language. 

The Kindle statement and the Google one both mean more to me in the church world.  Both of those companies are dealing with information that doesn’t belong to them, that they did not create, but they are trying to make it accessible to everyone everywhere.  I am not fooled into believing that either of these companies is doing this because of the information, or for the  people who will receive the information, they are doing it for power and profit. 

Hillside Church does not own the Gospel, but we can communicate it any way that we want to.  Our business will be helping people make their own relationship with Jesus through the communication of the Gospel.  Obviously quantifying the statement is difficult.  I don’t like to be a numbers guy. 

But here is what I need to do:  I need to create a BHAG that states a goal that is… Big, Quantifiable, inspirational, it needs to be a goal that will inspire me, and one that I can lead with.  It doesn’t need to say how, but it needs to communicate what we need to accomplish.

Let me try this one out:

“The Gospel of Jesus communicated through Action to every person in the Maryville/Lake Stevens Area.”

I’m going to think about that one for a bit and get back to it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

My Problem with Worship Music

I guess that even this title is a harsh way to start a blog post.  But recently I have been told by a mentor and an assessor that I need to work on my boldness and take a stand for what I feel and believe, so I need to learn to be less apologetic about the things that I am feeling strongly.  So here goes…

I really have not appreciated worship music for a long time.  If I am being bold, I should say that I just can’t stand a lot of worship music lately.  Personally, I think that I have an even stronger reaction on this topic because of how many people make it sound like a sin to dislike a worship song or a worship experience.

How many times have I heard someone make some sort of statement like:  “on Saturday, you went to your favorite sports team’s home game and screamed your voice hoarse cheering when your team scored or kept the other team from scoring… then why is it on Sunday, you sit in church like a bump on a log, quiet and relaxed?  if we cheer for our team, why can’t we cheer for God?  Do you love your team more than God?”  or I hear this: “why is it that you scream and dance and sing along for your favorite rock band, but stand like a frozen statue in a worship service singing quietly and barely participating?”

Statements like these truly upset me.  I feel like I am right back in High School at the pep rally.  “We’ve got spirit. Yes we do!”  I didn’t hate my high school, but I desperately hated the pep rallies.  The pep rally was the school’s way of parading the best looking, and most talented athletes and cheerleaders in front of the student body and saying: “don’t you want to be like us. don’t you want to worship us?”  My answer was always “NO!  Not even a little.”  I liked my high school team.  I wanted them to win.  I actually wanted to cheer for them.  But pep rallies made me want to walk away in disgust.  I felt bad for not jumping up and down and screaming like lots of students did.  I felt bad for being attracted to every cheerleader physically, but literally hating everything they said or did at these rallies.  I felt bad for thinking less of myself and my talents because I would never be asked to stand in front of this rally in a letterman’s jacket to receive the praise of my peers and the phone numbers from the girls. 

The school was saying:  “Cheer for what we tell you to cheer for.  Cheer for the strong, good looking, athletically talented.  Cheer for the ONE flavor of life that we can all appreciate.  If you want to get on this stage and be praised you’d better bench press more, run faster, hit harder, win more, (or for the girls) you’d better have a clear complexion, great legs, great hair and all of the other features that enhance how you look in your cheer leaders outfit.” 

“Like what we tell you to like, or there is something wrong with you.” 

About six months ago, I met with a Pastor who confirmed these parallels in the church without even flinching.  He was the pastor of the largest church in the East Valley in Phoenix.  He was telling me that he wanted to offer me some money to plant a church in the Phoenix area.  But in order to get that money, I would have to do things “his way.”  He said that “his way” included:  “you will play the worship music we tell you to because it is loved by early 30-something women with children.  Normally men don’t like it as much, but if you get the wife excited about church, she will drag her husband there.”  When he talked more about the music, he talked about the sound and style, he never addressed the content or the tradition. 

This is how it is in Christian Worship Music.  Very little variety, very little talent, very little that is interesting, but a solid tune that is catchy and memorable.  And we are told that if we don’t sing our hearts out to it, raise our hands with it, and are emotionally impacted by it; there is something wrong with us. 

“Like what we tell you to like or there is something wrong with you.”

It gets worse than this in church though.  If you are being “contemporary”, your worship team is all young, dressed like emo-rock stars, and pop stars, and this music and look is what makes you relevant to our culture.  Just like high school, the church’s pretty people are trying to get you emotionally stirred up.  Not cheerleaders and jocks, it’s the attractive and musically talented that are leading the pep rally.  That dude in the second row who started his own business that is succeeding, and thriving has no relevant gifts for the stage, the guy in the back row who works nights and cleans floors at businesses and is a great father to his children and a great husband, has no relevant gifts.  But the guy on the guitar kind of looks like one of the goo goo dolls if you squint a little. 

Not only can the look and feel be superficial, but some of these songs:

Shout to the Lord – undeniably has a very memorable and singable melody, but “I sing for joy at the work or your hands, forever I’ll love you forever I’ll stand. Nothing compares to the promise I have in you.”

I Am A Friend of God – This song is probably my least favorite.  I always imagine that the writers of Barney rejected the lyrics because they were condescending to children. “I am a friend of God, I am a Friend of God, I am a friend of God, HE calls me friend.” 

Here I am to Worship – “Here I am to worship. Here I am to bow down.  Here I am to say that you’re MY God.”  In case God didn’t know, I am singing about how awesome of a worshipper I am. 

Open the Eyes of My Heart – Never mind that the Bible tells us that we couldn’t handle seeing God because we are inadequate.  “Open the eyes of my heart, I want to see you. Pour out your power and love as we sing holy holy holy.” 

Beautiful One - “Beautiful one I love. Beautiful one, I adore. Beautiful one, my soul does sing.”  Singing in Yoda, is by far the best part of this song. 

Trading My Sorrows - “ I’m trading my sorrows, I’m trading my shame. I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord.” 

What kills me in these songs are that these are some of the most popular worship songs.  They all are catchy and singable, they have all been sung countless times in churches.  And for the most part the songs are songs about how great of worshippers and christians WE are.   When I sing these songs, I feel like I am singing praise to myself and praising the church and the musicians. I literally and truly feel that I am doing nothing more important than participating in the pep rally. 

And it’s true.  These songs are popular for a reason.  They are popular because people who have been in churches that are unemotional and boring through most of their lives will find them catchy and singable and probably easier to understand than some of the liturgy that they may have grown used to with no explanation of why it was created.  They are also popular because they are easy for a bad band to play well.  They make the good looking musicians look like they are good at what they are doing. 

What I hate is that somehow I am less of a Christian if I don’t get emotional and sing these songs and raise my hands.  I am told that even if I disagree with the song, or don’t like it as much as my favorite band that I need to sing it louder because I don’t want God to think I like my favorite band more than Him.  This reasoning is not uncommon in churches.  I have heard it literally expressed over a dozen times.  I just want to raise my hand and say:  “are you serious?  because I don’t like the Newsboys’ rewritten psalm and don’t want to sing to it and it doesn’t make me closer to God, because of that, I don’t love God enough?  So what you are saying is that “good Christians” fake their feelings about God by singing louder?  You are saying that I can hide my true feelings about God and my favorite band by how I behave in church?  Doesn’t God already know if I like my favorite band more than Him?”

But this would be refuted by saying:  “this is what we do in church. we sing praises to God?”  And I would say: “these seem more like praises to me and the band than to God.”  But of course, I would hear: “most of these songs are written with the psalms of David in them, they are scripture, are you saying that singing scripture is lame?”  And I would reply: “Is that what you think the Psalms were written for?  To be sung in corporate worship for 20 minutes per week? Am I supposed to believe that my poor relationship with a coworker is similar to David being chased by King Saul and hiding in the caves?  Were the psalms written because without them we could not find other ways of singing praise?  I often wonder if perhaps rather than reciting the words of David maybe we should be finding our own way to praise God for what He has done and is doing for us today.  Are you also saying that before Jesus preached the sermon on the mount, He broke out the old guitar and Peter got on drums so that the crowd could get misty eyed and sway as they sang “Draw me close”?  Is it not church if we don’t sing these simple poppy songs? 

It’s hilarious to me that “modern” churches have gone so far to prove to us that the old liturgy and hymns were irrelevant to us, and what they have replaced them with is “The Newsboys greatest hits.” 


OK.  There’s my deconstruction.  Here’s how I would love to reconstruct…

The blue haired 90 year old Edith at the organ pulling out all of the stops on the final verse of hymn #491 is another scenario wrought with problems.  I’d probably go to the mega church and endure the “hillsongs wanna-be band” if I had to make a choice between the two.  But the beauty of it is that I don’t have to make a choice between those two.  For the first time, it’s up to me.  I get to decide why we do what we do, and what we actually do, do.  I am excited and scared about this at the same time.  What scares me is that I think that I could have our worship leader play 4 songs from the worship top 40 each week and we could do it better than the churches in our area, or at least AS good.  I think that we could do this in a way that would bring in many people from those local churches, and also some people who aren’t churched as well.  I think that it would be the easiest thing to do.  Kind of a color by numbers kind of thing. 

But what I want to do… Is … AW crap.  In order to tell you what I want to do.  I have to tell you why, first.  I am not seeing many people do this right now.  Most people that are deciding what to do seem to be going with the: “I’ll do church better than it is being done by having a better band play those same songs, and a better website saying those same things, and sermons saying what they already expect to hear. I will just do it better than the church down the street and we will be bigger.”

Here is what I want to have.  A church where people feel that they are a part of something meaningful, something fun, something real, something original, something where their gifts are as important as the church jocks and church cheerleaders.  I feel that too often church services seem like a pep rally before the game.  I want to recognize that this is not a game, and church is not a rally.  Church should be preparing us for real meaningful interaction in the real world, and celebrating what is being accomplished, by us and by others in the real world.  In church we should be challenged and encouraged.  (I could write more about this, and will, but this is off of the top of my head.)

I want to use testimonies from real people, stories, art, films, humor, examples from the lives of others, food, celebrations of the accomplishments of people and especially children, and I want them to be used in worship as artistically as any piece of music. 

For instance:  The Topic of the Week is “Love Your Enemies.” (not in any particular order)  The business owner tells a story about what happened when he applied this bit of scripture to a shoplifter, or a competitor.  (live or on video) A comedian tells a couple of jokes about being bullied as a kid.  An artist’s painting about Peace in the middle of Chaos is used and featured and described, either on stage or in the bulletin, the child of the janitor tells the story of how his dad gave him advice on how to deal with a bully at school.  A family passes out the same kind of cookies that they baked and gave the angry neighbor down the street.  There is a shortage on worship songs about loving someone who is an enemy, because this is one of those scriptures that does not lend itself to trite 3 chord songs; and churches didn’t need to talk too much about it because it means loving Saddam and Osama and Nancy Pelosi; and those are a little too radical for most churches.  So maybe the band plays a fun version of “In the Name of Love.”  And because the congregation already preached a beautiful message, the sermon is split up during the service.  Maybe this is a two week topic, not because I have 3 more points to make, but maybe because the congregation has more amazing stories, humor, art, or food.  Maybe in week two, we sing the hymn “It is Well” which addresses injustice and our reaction to it. 

With those ways of worship, we don’t need to fill 25 minutes with music choruses.  I’m certainly not saying that we don’t need worship music.  Some weeks, might lend themselves to singing 2 songs, and some weeks we might want to have 5.  Some weeks might have a popular song, 2 worship songs, and a hymn done well (that is also explained.)  But some weeks, you will say:  because the church is learning to worship using their lives and talents in non-traditional ways, there isn’t room for more than a song or two. 

The real challenge of doing this will be creating a culture at church that recognizes what is being done and wants to participate with their lives.  It will take some serious vision casting and explanation, but it is a goal I will shoot for.  Not because I don’t like worship music.  But because of the unbelievably huge variety of ways that God gives us to worship.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Good Stupid Movies

This has been a topic that has been bugging me lately.

Stupid movies.

There are a lot of movies that I love that other people criticize as being "stupid" or dumb, or whatever. Movies like:
Dumb & Dumber
Hot Rod
Super Troopers
Austin Powers
Brothers Solomon
Happy Gilmore
Kung Pow
The Stupids
Billy Madison
Spies Like Us
Land of the Lost
Ace Ventura
Joe Dirt

Trust me, there are tons more.

I love all of those movies. But after making comments about any of these movies or quoting lines from them there is always someone who says: "That movie is stupid!"

Which almost always elicits the same response in my mind. My first thought is always: "if you went to that movie to see a movie that was not a 'stupid movie' YOU are stupid."

Of course they are stupid. That's the whole point. The plots are not overly complex, and the characters are somewhat simple and straightforward, most of the time it is the performance of the writing and the acting that are on display here. And by acting, I am not talking about Meryl Streep and Deniro, I am talking about slapstick, physical comedy, voice acting etc.

I understand if these maybe aren't the genre that you would most love to see. I get it, you don't have to love these movies. They may just not be your thing. Cool, fine, but don't tell me that they aren't good.

These movies take a ton of talent from an actor. Show me any other actor who could have pulled of Ace Ventura, better yet, show me any actor who has won an academy award who could do it. Tom Hanks could be in a stupid movie and Robin Williams has pulled off great stupid movie characters, but Deniro, Pacino, DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Denzel, none of them can pull off that level of physically demanding stuff. Any of them could be in a movie and say funny things, but could they really pull off a stupid movie? No!

So there is certainly a great performance talent involved in stupid movies. You can't question that.

But what about writing? I know, I know, sometimes that plot is silly. But often, you need to admit that it is brilliantly silly. A writer of a stupid movie is there often to build a story around a character. The point is to put the character into situations where they are incongruous or ridiculous. Ace Ventura at the high society dinner looking for snowflake. Joe Dirt in Buffalo Bob's basement cave. Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunn living it up in Aspen. Ron Burgundy in the Bear Pit.

And the one liners! Can you quote from any movie the way that you could from watching Anchorman, or Dumb & Dumber or Austin Powers? Very few movies have presented that many memorable moments. Those moments are due to funny writing and good performances.

The snarky and mean side of me watches people bash these movies and thinks: "you are so desperate to sound smart and above others that you are not willing to enjoy something silly."

The even less politically correct side of me notices that women often are the ones who have a problem with these movies. Ladies, show me how in the world anyone can think a romantic comedy with Sandra Bullock and Keanu, or Ryan Reynolds or any one else has as much talent as a stupid comedy.

I also need to point out that just because some movies get called stupid, I am not necessarily going to like them. The Scary Movie , Epic Movie etc franchises are proving that they can be as equally paint by the numbers as a Sandra Bullock movie. I saw about 15 minutes of a Larry the Cable Guy movie the other day and noticed that there was absolutely nothing to the movie, poorly written and poorly acted by someone who does the one character for a living. Pretty weak stuff.

All I am saying here is: don't get hung up on the one gratuitous gross-out scene that seems to be mandatory in every stupid comedy these days. Get beyond it and enjoy a fun movie. No one said it had to be "No Country for Old Men" every time.

Wait, that just made me think of something. You can't get passed the vomit scene in Team America, but somehow you're OK with "friendo" blasting people's heads apart in that movie. That was disturbing! "The Departed" was a great movie, but there are blood and brains and more foul language than any stupid comedy I have ever seen. I'm just sayin'.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Where We're At.

I have been asked recently by a few people that I have not done a good job staying in touch with: "Where are You?" Here's the answer...

Yep. I'm gonna tell the whole story. Well at least the whole highlight reel of the story and I will let you make up your own mind about where we are, because it has been a crazy few months. I'm also going to begin posting on this blog. Some posts will be repeated on a church plant blog that I am also going to create just to sort out posts about just church planting stuff.
But here we go...

Some of you know more of the story than others, so I am going to fill all of you in on the last few years and months of our lives, just to frame what we are doing in a way that makes sense.

Keep in mind for this retelling that I grew to know and experience God through a church that I was at when it began (a church plant). That particular church had a different feeling at that time than any other church that I have ever been at. (I am not saying that to put down other
churches that I have been at. Some churches should feel different than others, no question. But this particular church is a church that desperately cared for people, broken people, needy people, hurt people, questioning people, confused people, ANY people. There were good things and bad things about that church, and I honestly believe that because of the people at that church who mentored me, and the people that I worked with and spent time with, I got an even different feel from that church than many other people had. I realize that my nature is to set this feeling and this perception of this church on a pedestal, and to idealize my skewed remembrance of this place. But I have thought those things through and that is not what I am doing.

There was a feeling at that place that made me know and believe that there are people who want to live as a community of God in very Matthew 5 types of ways, honestly confessing to each other, helping each other and growing together. That feeling and those people were a big part of starting me on a path of growth.

All of that was a preface...

That past feeling has created a need and desire in my life to see others live that way. Expecting God to do something, expecting people to open to each other and live deeply together, and reaching out to not only draw other people in, but also going out and infecting other people with that spirit and feeling.

I should stop talking about the feeling, because you are probably thinking that it is some unobtainable and over blown sentiment that I have built up too much.

In many church moments that I have been in since, it wasn't just that there was a different feeling, many times, there was no feeling, or a feeling that a church should be something that exists for itself. Some of the feelings that I have experienced from chur
ches that I have been in since at their best moments have been:
-desires to fill seats
-goals of increasing budgets to support programs and facilities
-desires to make the people on the outside of the church look and act like the people on the inside
-a blind eye to incredible amounts of selfishness and sin of church leaders
-the attitude that the people in the congregation are ignorant compared to the staff
-a desire to disciple people who have more primary needs
-a desire to educate people who have more primary needs
-a desire to rebuke peoples' sin without dealing with bigger issues
-a desire to placate people because of their financial support of the church

Whoa, whoa, whoa...Mike. Are you saying that these churches were this depraved, that they cared more about money than people?!
NO! That's not at all what I am saying. I need to qualify and explain this so that you don't get the wrong idea. In fact, when you look at all of these statements, there are good and bad parts to each of them. Most of these statements characterize churches who want to bring more people in, churches that want to educate, and disciple, churches that want to deal with the things that separate people from a relationship with God.

What I am saying is that there are times when the necessities of money and facility get in the way of people, there are times when good people with good desires get tunnel vision that makes them lose perspective on what the church is about.

And of course, I was the angel who always maintained the Biblical, Jesus perspective on all of these issues.. Right? Nope, that wasn't me at all. I got caught up in almost every one of those feelings at one time or another. I wanted my program to be the biggest and best and holiest. I wanted to be recognized for my ability to do ministry. I wanted people to pour their money and time into my ministries so that other people would come in and say: WOW! This place must have the best youth pastor ever!

I was corrupted by wrong motives over and over again. I was filled with selfish and self gratifying desires time and time again.

I wasn't immune to all of that stuff. I was participating in it, I was justifying my own ambitions by saying, and trying to make myself believe that it was all for God. But there
was too much of me in there.

I want to be sure that you know that I don't hold any of the pastors that I worked for or with as responsible for all of that. All three of the pastors I have worked for over the past decade were gifted and talented in so many ways. Craig was one of the warmest and caring and genuine Pastors that I have ever met. John was an incredible visionary and manager who could inspire commitment in people's lives, Allan is one of the most talented and funny communicators I have ever been around. None of them were perfect, all of them were special and taught me a lot. All of them cared deeply about their church and the people who attended it. No doubt.

At each of those churches I have met and worked with amazing people. People rich with personality and passion. Unique people who can't be duplicated anywhere.

Each of those churches, talented and gifted leaders, amazing and unique people in the congregation. But in each of those places, I tried to create something like what I had felt before. I'll make it clear here that, no, I don't live in the past and don't think that I can have those feelings back. What I was trying to create, was that kind of passion and purpose. I could be like many youth pastors or church staffers that I know who complain that the Senior Pastor, or the Board, created a place where this could not happen.

But when it comes down to it, it was not the fault of the Senior Pastor, they are supposed to cast the vision for their church and teach others to communicate it well. It is certainly not the fault of the board or congregation. Though all of those entities change the persona of the church by their presence and decisions, a vast majority of board members and church congregants, seemed willing to follow and grow.

If you are looking for someone to blame, there are two choices that I will give you:
-You can either say: "it is too difficult for one staff member to change the ethos or persona of the whole church themselves! It is a systemic fault in all large churches." And I will agree, it was not my place to overstep leadership and demand my way so that everyone can conform to what I want all of us to feel. I will also agree that large churches in today's culture have huge challenges to keep the focus off of programs, budgets, staffing, facilities and ON people.

-Or you can say: "The common denominator in all of those situations is YOU Mike!" And I will also agree. I certainly got distracted and caught up in all of those challenges. I certainly was full of selfishness at times. But, I will say, to be honest: the bigger problem with me was that there were too many times where I could have taken a stand and didn't, where I could have made waves and valued harmony too much. There are too many times when I saw w
rong things happening and just wrote it off as: "that's just who they are, or how they see things." There are too many times when I could have risked, but I chose to remain silent, or stationary, or even worse went along with things that I did not agree with.

I can not tell you the number of times when I knew that I should have, or could have done, but I remained silent because it would create too much disharmony, or because it would put a key staff member or volunteer against me, or because it would overshadow other ministries or take an inordinate proportion of budget away from other good things that were happening.

I didn't risk, simply because it would have put me in a place in which I am not generally comfortable, in conflict. Some of these risks may have cost me my job, or would have painted me in a poor light to my superiors. Risking my job, meant risking my house and f
inances and the comfort of my family. But by not risking those things, I have been living as something that I am not. Or rather, I have not let myself or my family be who they could have been.

I have not only deprived myself of happiness for the sake of other people's harmony, I have also deprived my family of the husband and dad that I truly am. I have deprived my churches of knowing the leader and pastor that I know that I am. This isn't to say that I have not let myself out at times, or that relationships have been fake or untrue with me. What I am saying is that everything has been watered down. I wasn't living a lie at all. But I wasn't living fully in the truth. When it comes down to it, there have been few people that I have known that have lived in the honesty and truth that I am talking about. Seriously, most of the people that I have known, and have worked with, the staff members, the parents of the youth that I have ministered to, most of them have made it clear that they lived in the same paradigm but in different circumstances. Whether it has been working at a job that they don't like because they don't think they could qualify for another, going to the "safety college" because it is closer and cheaper than the place where they really want to go, tolerating sexual harassment at work, tolerating disrespect from their spouses, believing that their kids couldn't become obedient or motivated because of their personalities, or many many other reasons or circumstances: most people I know live in this paradigm where staying safe, tolerating less than what they are
worth, and asking too little from themselves at work or in relationships characterizes their everyday lives. I didn't want to live like this.

I want to make it clear here that I wasn't living with some major gross unresolved sin. But my regret is that i did not step up more often and risk. When we created small groups and Flipside in Port Orchard, and when we changed FlipSide and made it better and better, and when we moved to Phoenix, and when we changed Hot Church and created new groups. All of those were bold moves were glimpses into what God was doing in me. Those all took hard work and passion. But, I often wonder how much different or better each would have been had I stood up and moved forward daily with the same risk and passion that it took to create those groups and the trips and the moments that came out of them. Risking more would have brought me more disharmony and discomfort, and who knows, it may have gotten me fired at times. I would probably have more scars. Hopefully, I would have picked the right times and issues for which to take a stand. I always did pride myself on knowing which battles to choose, but more often than not, that may have been a justification to stay out of any battles.

So recently I took a chance. I felt a call to step out and take every risk in the book at the same time. I will talk about this call in another post at another time. The short of it is that not only did I feel a call to plant a church, I felt a need to do it. I felt a real choice inside of me that said I could either continue on doing what I was doing only taking the smaller risks and only letting the watered down version of me out; and I could do this for the rest of my life and the rest of my ministry. OR, I could finally take the risk.
Maybe God sets things up like this. Maybe there was a sense in God's call that because of how long I had been sheltering myself and my family and my churches and the people I ministered from the whole me, maybe I would have to take every risk in the book. Maybe I would have to risk our home and financial security, and good salary, and our place at a nice and fun church in a safe and good neighborhood, with our putting green and pool. This risk, presented itself as the hurdle to getting to where we wanted to go, and also as the very clear choice that I could continue in safety, knowing that there was more of me to give; or to let go of everything that seemed so stable, risk it all and be the real me.

Let me make it clear. God called me to risk it all. But it was not the risk I trumped it up to be. I was not risking my relationship with Kim, she has always been in my corner and I have never felt that so solidly as right now. I was risking her finances, and I was risking my kids security at many levels. But, one thing I have learned in the last few months is that God has ALWAYS stepped up and been a provider and protector. I was done working half way through May, Kim was done at the end of July and somehow we have still made it this far.

For those of you who don't know the logistics...
We were asked to interview for a Church Planting position in Washington State, which basically meant that there was some funding in place, provided by a church that wanted to see a new church start and reach new people. We interviewed and the opportunity was put on hold. We didn't know what we should do.

I had felt a call to planting for quite a while, but never was the call so strong. I quit my job, without knowing where we were going, but knowing that the only way to move forward was to quit my past and move ahead. We then had a choice: figure out how to plant a church in Phoenix, or figure out how to plant a church in Washington state (which is where I felt a real desire to go to.)

The easier plan was to plant in Phoenix. So we started thinking this way. Until a couple of friends suggested that we not do the easiest thing. We got confirmation when we started thinking this way. The original group who called us about the plant in Washington, and not long after, I was offered a solid job where I could be a bi-vocational pastor. A friend would pay me to manage a pizza store, and would pay benefits for my family too.

This would be difficult, but it was real and it was a way. So we started planning this way. Until our friend from Washington State called us again. Because the Pizza job was a one year commitment and would start almost immediately (and was not able to be postponed), I had a choice. I could pursue the Washington church plant which was like a dream come true, or I could take the pizza job and see what happens. Let me make it clear, because the Pizza job was a sure thing offered by a such a good person with a good heart, it was safer. The risk was to try for the Washington church plant for which I would only know if I was able to do it after I went through an assessment. This assessment could have told us that we were not able or ready or qualified to plant a church.

We went to the assessment. We risked it all again. We were moving to Washington regardless, but this would determine whether we would have a job when we got there or not.

The assessment was grueling. We threw our whole selves into it. We were given assignments late in the day to be ready by morning. We could have done the minimum, but we stayed up almost all night, both nights, we spent money on them, we worked as hard as we could. And we did well.

I don't know whether we would have gotten the thumbs up from the church planting assessment if we did the minimum, and I don't know if us going all out with effort made the difference. But I will tell you this, it made the difference for me. It not only showed me how much I wanted this, and how much I was called to do this and able to do this, it showed me that I am ready to go all out. I am ready to risk it all and put myself out there. Putting ourselves out there helped convince me that I will be better when I fully put it all on the line.

They did give us the thumbs up, or green light or whatever. And I have to tell you that even though it was only 3 days. It was more meaningful to me that any graduation I have ever been through. I never put it all out there in High School or College.

So I moved us here. Knowing that I had risked it all, and we are only just beginning. There are a lot more risks to come. There is a lot more of me to pour out there.

There are a couple of times in this move where I have forgotten how much God is providing for us and have been filled with worry or fear, but at every level, God meets our needs. Even renting a house, I was tempted to go the easy road and choose second best. But I decided to risk it and negotiate for the owner of the house that we liked to bring it to the same price as our lower priced "safe" choice. I told them that I would walk away, if they didn't. We did get the house.

We are in Marysville, right next to Lake Stevens. We are clearly seeing an area of need in this place and area ready to go all out to be a part of this community and to start a church where people will feel like I felt 15 years ago.

I want to feel at home in my own skin. I want to love the place where I live and love the people in this place. I want to pour everything I have out here. There is not even a part of me that imagines that this road is going to be easy. But I already made that choice. I said bye, bye to easy and chose risk.

If you are asking where we are at, there is one simple answer: We are home.

** My Disclaimers
1. By saying that I did not risk and put myself out there in relationships, I want whoever reads this to know that I was not "fake" in my relationships. In fact, I feel very fortunate to have the friends that I have. But I have not risked enough to move relationships to deeper levels. I don't regret any relationships that I have made. My regrets are the ones that I either didn't make, or never had more depth of discussion and care.

2. I want to make it clear that in no way am I faulting any church, pastor, board, or congregant for anything. In fact, I really treasure time at each of those places. If anything, I fault myself for not investing even more of myself.

3. I also want to make it clear that I am very proud of many things that I have been a part of in ministry over the years. The groups, small groups, trips, the way the spirit moved in Mexico more than once, the creation of small groups and FlipSide in Port Orchard, the changes that we made in Hot Church. There have certainly been times where I have been moved to be a part of very special ministries at each of these churches. All of those things took a lot of hard work and were glimpses into what I was called to do.