Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A cool thing about being a minister.

Something I have enjoyed so much about being a minister is that I have some really excellent people as role models. I know that in every vocation, people have other experts and leaders whom they admire. It seems like a lot of times it will be someone who is fastest or strongest, or whose company makes the most money. But their personal integrity might or might not factor that much into their status.

I got to spend most of today with Dr. Phil Slate, who I interviewed as part of a specialized practicum I'm doing this semester at the Harding Grad School. I found myself feeling like the gentile woman who told Jesus, "Even dogs can eat the crumbs that fall from the master's table." This guy is just such a solid person. He is dripping with wisdom and compassion. He's lived overseas for years, he's well educated, and most importantly, he's given his life to trying to strengthen the church. At this stage in his life, he's preparing to make yet another shift to start pouring more effort into domestic mission work because he sees a need there. We talked about a variety of subjects, and in each regard, he had some thought or advice that was positive and helpful.

I love having people to mentor me who are not untouchable famous millionaires. Despite the bad press that some ministers and Christian leaders get, there are a lot of Christian people who have led magnificent lives, and who have lived this way for noble, selfless reasons; not for personal gain. My heroes are not sports legends or CEO's. Many of my heroes are people that I've been blessed to get to know.

Spending time learning at the feet of Dr. Slate today reminded me of why I chose ministry. I had seriously contemplated trying to "make it" in the music business, or in the corporate world. But I looked at my own life and abilities and was convicted that with all the blessings I've been given, I owed God too much not to try and give him my life through church work. I've been blessed already with the two terrific congregations where I've been able to work. If in my life I'm able to contribute to the church in a way that's even a fraction of what people like Dr. Slate have done, I know I'll be able to die with the peace of feeling like my life meant something.

There is no amount of money equal to the value of a solid Christian role model.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Use Your Allusion: Simeon the Stylite

Simeon Stylites, or Simeon the Stylite, lived from 390 to 459 AD. He was an Arab who became very interested in Christianity after hearing a lecture on the Beatitudes at the age of 13. By the time he was 16, he had joined a monastery. He was particularly dedicated to an ascetic lifestyle, and would often fast for long periods of time; sometimes to his own detriment.

He had several different ventures where he would try and cut himself off from the world, but because of his unconventional life, he was constantly beraded by people seeking his prayers and advice.

The first of these ventures was that he shut himself in a hut for three years. Later, he began standing continually upright for as long as his limbs would hold him up. Eventually, he went to live on the rocky Sheik Barakat Mountain, where he imprisoned himself to live in a space that was less than 20 meters in diameter. But people kept seeking him out, so that he wasn't able to find time for his own meditation and devotions.

It was obvious that he wasn't going to be able to escape the world horizonally, so he decided to do so vertically. Amongst some ruins, he discovered a pillar that was about 13 feet high. He built a platform on top of it, then began to live there. Some of the other monks were concerned he was doing it for attention rather than devotion, and they decided to test him to see if he would be obedient to their requests to come down. When he demonstrated that he was willing to comply with whatever they demanded, instead they decided to let him stay on the pillar.

Some of his admirers eventually built him taller pillars. The last one which he lived on was about 40 feet high, and it had a platform that was about 12 square feet. He lived atop this pillar for a total of 37 years until he died. (Pictured are the remains of the pillar, marked with a boulder on top of it) And again, the more unusual he was in seeking solitude, the more people continued to seek him out. He became quite famous, and inspired many imitators called stylites, in reference to him.

I don't know how frequently Simeon the Stylite is used as an allusion in modern times. It might be a good reference for someone who is terribly anti-social. I personally think the best use of Simeon the Stylite would be in reference to David Blaine's recent "Dive of Death." Blaine hung upside down for 60 hours, though occasionally he took water breaks and potty breaks. Yawn. Compared to Simeon, David Blaine is a total wimp.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

It's Nacho Cat: Yummy Shower Water

Every morning, if she is not yet outside, Nacho hangs around our bathroom when we take showers. I have to wrestle with her as I get out, because as I'm coming out she wants in.

Nacho does not like to drink the water that we put in her water dish. The only water that she wants to drink is the water left over on the floor of the shower when we're done showering. It must be the smell of the soap or the shampoo or something, but she will drink as much of it as she can possibly get away with. (She's been known to do that in the toilet a time or two, but we generally keep the lid down to prevent it.)

Since I fight her and won't let her in the shower, after I walk away, she goes and licks all the water she can from around the crack of the shower door. Yes, it's gross, but I can't get her to stop doing it.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Now I've Seen Everything: Worship Mascots

My good friend Russ sent me an e-mail about what some churches have started doing to energize their worship services: Mascots.

You can read the whole article here.

I personally am comfortable with the need for churches to use marketing to make people aware of them. I think it's helpful in reaching the younger generation to have a good website, podcasts, and maybe even a nice logo. Using slides and powerpoint can really help connect with people who are visual learners. I'm also a fan of having upbeat, joyful singing and energetic speakers. We should be able to leave a worship service feeling like we worshiped.

But having people in costumes in the worship assembly jump around, raising the roof, and dancing to the music definitely makes me feel like a line is being crossed. Worship in so many congregations continues to try and compete with our entertainment-driven culture. I'm always left wondering, "What's next?"

In talking about the argument of how to interpret silence in scripture, I always mentioned using soda and cheeseburgers at communion as an example of something so absurd that everyone would agree it was improper. But now, what I thought was an absurd idea doesn't sound that far out. I can totally see these churches using grape soda and fresh hot cheese bread to make communion more exciting. Obviously, they've decided that the Scriptural ideas for worship aren't good enough.

I kind of hesitate to even make this post, because the last time I pointed out something I thought was utterly ridiculous in a local denomination, I started getting angry e-mails and messages from them, trying to argue with me. I'm not looking for a fight. I'm just saying that this is totally contrary with how Paul said assemblies are supposed to be.

Those who disagree with me are welcome to think whatever they want to think.

Friday, September 19, 2008

New PC Add

The first couple of adds with Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld were received with mixed reviews. This seems to be the new direction the PC adds are going. I found it interesting and entertaining. What do you think?

Use Your Allusion: Penelope

Penelope is a key figure in Homer's Odyssey. Her husband Odysseus had been called away several years ago to fight in the Trojan War. They have a son together, Telemachus, who is with her. Because Odysseus has been gone for so long, many presume him to be dead. Penelope has numerous suitors who pester her day and night, wanting to marry her.

She comes up with several brilliant ways to delay them. One of which is that she claims that she cannot marry any of them until she finishes weaving a burial shroud for Odysseus' elderly father. This holds them off for three years, because every day she weaves on the shroud, but then every night, she unravels all the weaving that she had done that day. Eventually, her means of delaying them are discovered, and she is forced to come up with other ways.

At the end of the story, her husband returns home at first in secret, but then fights off the other suitors, in a display of his manliness involving stringing a bow that only he could.

Penelope is a great symbol of fidelity, as she refused to give up on her husband, and remained faithful to him. Penelope also makes a nice allusion when you speak of how she managed to delay her suitors by means of her weaving and unraveling the shroud.

Recently, a movie came out titled Penelope (2006) where Christina Ricci stars as a girl, born with a pig's snout, who has many potential suitors, but who has trouble finding one, because of her family's fear that she will be rejected because of her looks. She meets them secretly, behind a two-way mirror, trying to find a person she trusts enough to let see her face. Honestly, it was a great movie, that I thought communicated the importance of learning to love yourself, and not being so caught up in what society judges as beauty.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

That's a huge cat

I was looking for pictures of cats to use as illustrations for a teen devo, and I saw this one. This is the biggest cat I've ever seen. Is this not terrifying?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

It's Nacho Cat: Oh, How I Love DVR

At night, Carolina and I always sit together on our bed and watch the news. Nacho likes to come sit in between us and get attention. The other night I managed to slip the remote into her paws.

The greatest things that have happened to me in my life:
1. Christianity
2. My Family & Friends
3. My Job
4. Guitar
5. DVR

Being able to record, pause, and fast forward through TV has changed my life in meaningful ways. I don't think I can ever go back to not having it. I love having DVR.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Use Your Allusion: Madame Defarge

Madame Defarge is a fictional character from Charles Dickens' work A Tale of Two Cities. She is arguably the main villain of the book, and is a tireless worker in the French Revolution. She is a picture of scheming and bitterness.

She's used as a representative of the Greek Fates. The Fates would cut an individual string that represented each person's life. A person could not live longer than the Fates had determined, which was represented by their own string. Madame Defarge would always be knitting, and as she knit, in her mind, she would be knitting the names of those she wanted to die into her work.

In the story, she seeks the lives of Charles Darnay's family out of vengeance for the lives of several of her own family members.

Madame Defarge shows up as a character in Mel Brooks' movie A History Of The World: Part One. Humorously, in his version, she has run out of wool, so she just sits there rubbing her knitting needles together.

Most people who allude to Madame Defarge will be alluding to her scheming nature, and will most likely reference her knitting.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It's Nacho Cat: Beijing Gold

We keep the blinds slightly up in one of our bedrooms so that in the morning, Nacho can lay on the carpet on the spot that the sun has heated up.

You might notice her collar and name tag. Our friends were over a couple of weeks ago with a 3-year-old son. He saw Nacho's gold medal name tag and excitedly told his mother that Nacho had gotten a gold medal in the Beijing Olympics, which had been going on. I guess she's a world champion cat.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Use Your Allusion: Hester Prynne

Hester Prynne is a character in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. In it, Prynne is a woman who comes to the United States to live in a Puritan settlement in Boston. Her husband, who is much older than her, came ahead of her, but somehow never arrived and was presumed lost at sea. But Prynne has a daughter named Pearl, who is undoubtedly the product of an adulterous relationship. Hester Prynne is forced to always wear a red (scarlet) letter 'A' on her chest, which stands for her sin of adultery. Though the people insult her, mock her, and pressure her, she refuses to give the name of the one she had cheated with. If you haven't read it, I would rather not reveal how it all unfolds. But I will say that her husband shows up, concealing his identity from all but Prynne under the name of Chillingworth. He is driven to have his revenge on the one who committed this sin with his spouse.

It's a tough story, but the book was one of my favorites that we read in high school. Hester is really a good natured person who does many philanthropic things, but because of her mistake she is always scorned by the other settlers. Though she has made a bad decision, the book really evokes a lot of sympathy from the reader. This story is a good one in reflecting on the need for forgiveness and grace toward other people. It's also a powerful picture of what guilt can do to a person when sin is not brought to light. Though Hester is scorned, at least she has confessed. Her partner in adultery is widely respected, but is emotionally torn up every time he sees her be mocked. He knows he deserves it as much as she. Much of the story is him trying to gain the courage to confront his own sin.

With a lot of high profile affairs and unwed pregnancies in the political realm lately, Hester Prynne is a name that might be alluded to a lot in the near future.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

It's Nacho Cat: Majestic

Our friends the Millers were over at our house to get some leftover packaging materials we had, as they are getting ready to move. Nacho was in entertainment mode, as she frequently is when we have company. Once the kids stopped petting her and we made our way outside to the car, Nacho went around back where she uses the deck rail to hop on top of our house. She showed up around front and several times acted like she was going to jump all the way down to the porch. But then she walked up to the corner of the roof. Nathan remarked, "That would make an awesome picture." I whipped out my cell phone. Here's the result.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Learn From Mistakes: An Object Lesson

I still hold a conviction that I held when I began this blog: There are two characteristics that I believe a wise person possesses: (1) A good sense of what is appropriate--whether word or deed--in any situation, and (2) the ability to learn from the mistakes of others without making the same ones. Those are two goals I try to keep before me.

I just stumbled across something in my desk that I thought I could share with you. It is a mistake of mine that you can learn from.

I hate this key chain.

Though I hate it, I'll never get rid of it.

Here's the story:

When I was 10 years old, my family would frequent Gatlinburg, TN around 3 times per year for mini vacations. One of my favorite stores was a hologram store. I've always been a sucker for technology.

They had incredible holograms that were poster-size. They had all kinds of things. One was a hologram of a set of binoculars, looking into some scenery, and if you lined up with the binoculars, you could even look through them. They were awesome, but they were terribly expensive. A little too expensive it seems, as the store is long since closed.

On this particular trip, as usual, my parents gave my sister and I each $20 to be our spending money. We could use it however we wanted. I was so taken by the holograms at this store, I thought I really had to have one. The only ones in the entire store within my price range were the key chains. I picked out the one with Saturn on it and decided that I wanted it. My dad gently suggested, "Now Mark, if you get this, that will be all of your spending money. We're going to be here for two more days...are you sure this is what you want to do? You won't have any more money to spend."

I was sure.

So about an hour later, we're riding in the car back to the hotel, and I'm looking at this key chain. In the store, the lighting was perfect, and the image was brilliant. But in the dim back seat, it was only blurry. More than that, I was only 10. I didn't even carry keys. What would I do with a key chain? Buyer's remorse kicked in big time.

I began to tell my parents that I thought I wanted to see if the store would take it back. But my parents wouldn't let me. Perhaps had we gone, the guy would have let me return it, perhaps he wouldn't. Either way, they made me stick with my decision to spend all of my money on a small, hologram key chain.

But I learned a valuable lesson. I've known lots of parents who would have just bailed their kid out, and given them more money. Mine didn't. I had to agonize over the remorse that comes with spending everything you have on something you don't necessarily even want or need. It was agonizing for them not to prevent me from making a bad choice, they told me later. But they let me make the choice, then let me suffer the consequences. To this day, I am thankful to them for letting me learn from this stupid decision, though at the time I was pretty upset.

Not that I've never bought things I didn't need since then. Not that I haven't made some other impulsive blunders. But there is wisdom that comes from regret. As I was sitting here paying some bills online, thinking of some things I wish I could have sooner than I can afford them, I saw this key chain again beside me, and remembered.

Good parents are worth more than their weight in gold. Letting your children make mistakes isn't necessarily bad for them.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Corvette Museum

"What did you do for Labor Day, Mark?"

I took Carolina to the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY! We met up with our friends, the Dills. With my AAA discount, it was only $6 each. It is a pretty cool place. I'll have to say I learned a lot about Corvettes. Here's a shot I stitched together from one of the main rooms. (Click on the image above to see the larger version of it) My favorite Corvette was the orange one on the left...a 1969 Roadster, I believe. It's really incredible how many they have here. The Museum is undergoing massive renovations, including the addition of a lot more showroom space. In other words, it's already cool, but it's going to get a lot cooler by this time next year.

It was really neat to learn some of how the different designs were inspired and invented. Too bad I can't have one. Maybe when I'm old and rich. :-)