Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hold on Loosely

Ok, so I was going to wait until Epiphany to post again, but I ran across two related editorials that just inspired to me to weigh in on the topic of protecting our children. The first editorial took aim at a recent segment on Sesame Street.

The basic argument is that:
Kids need images of trustworthy grown-ups, especially as they're relaxing at bedtime. If this skit were made for adults, then maybe we'd find it funny. But as entertainment for children, it's just kind of weird.

You missed the boat on this one, Sesame Street.
Personally, I remember watching The Muppet Show as well as Sesame Street when I was a child, and I found such silliness as loud lullabies extremely funny. The again, my two favorite Muppets back then were Robin the Frog and Crazy Harry. So go figure. In any case, I think taking Sesame Street to task over that segment is probably a little much. I think most children recognize it as a joke... unless their parents decide to sing that lullaby at night—as opposed to 10am, when Sesame Street is on the air!

And I'm afraid that I'm not joking—well, not joking that much anyway—about parents doing something like that to their children. Because there's the second editorial, which takes solid aim at videos like this one:

Yes, the child is cute, and I don't entirely disagree with the idea of using "you got stuck" as a learning moment for "don't climb behind the couch." The child, however, probably did not deserve to be called "full of bologna" and clearly didn't deserve to be laughed at. Add in the fact that these parents made the poor child wait for them to go get their camera so they could put the frightening predicament on YouTube for everyone to see... I don't know, for a child to say "I need help" and for that help to be withheld and conditional just seems wrong to me. I worry that the child learned not to climb behind the couch—because the adults in my life might not help me if I get stuck.

Our society sits in this weird place where we over-protect our children—and laugh at their pain. No, worse, we laugh at their pain and broadcast it over the internet so everyone else in the world can laugh at it, too. As usual, I think there's a balance to be had that we as a society are completely lacking.

Protect your children just enough,
Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Be good to each other
Merry Christmas
Rev. Josh

Thursday, December 24, 2009

One More Sleep...

I know that it's easier to portray a world that's filled with cynicism and anger, where problems are solved with violence. That's titillating. It's an easy out. What's a whole lot tougher is to offer alternatives, to present other ways conflicts can be resolved, and to show that you can have a positive impact on your world. To do that, you have to put yourself out on a limb, take chances, and run the risk of being called a do-gooder.

Jim Henson
Anyone who's taken a little time looking around my office might discern that I'm a huge Jim Henson fan. It probably isn't too strong a thing to say that he's my hero. As we enter into Christmas Eve, I'd like for you to consider the quote from Jim that you find at the top of the page. I don't know if he had the Incarnation in mind when he said those words, but what he is talking about is a big part of what Jesus preached and taught.

The miracle of Christmas is that God came to earth as a human baby boy who went on to teach us that there are other ways conflicts can be resolved, to show that you can have a positive impact on your world, and that not one human being is expendable. Not even the "different" ones, the "useless" ones or the "really bad" ones.

If God became human and showed us these things, and we were all made in God's image, then we can show others these things as well. Jim Henson did, and you can too.

Present other ways conflicts can be resolved.
You can have a positive impact on your world.
Run the risk of being called a do-gooder.
Rev. Josh

Monday, December 21, 2009

Geek Christmas

I know folk who look at games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band and think, "Well that's stupid, if you're going to put that kind of time in, why not learn to play the guitar for real? And to those people I say... well, actually, they have a point. Not that I think that those games are bad—quite the opposite, they're shining examples of fun cooperative nonviolent video games. Even Stevie Wonder had some great things to say about these kinds of games at the Video Game Awards this year—and he challenged the video game industry to make games that blind folk can enjoy too! More on that some other day, maybe. Today, I don't really have an earth-shattering point. I just thought that it was really cool and creative what this kid has done with Christmas lights and Guitar Hero. Enjoy!

Be good to each other.
Rev. Josh

Friday, December 18, 2009

Behind the Counter

Let's pause for a moment and consider the folk who work behind counters and run registers for us, the consumers. Because, quite frankly, if you get a genuine smile from someone behind the counter when you approach, you're either very attractive or they are a saint. I'm leaning towards the sainthood thing, not because I doubt that you're attractive—I'm sure you're gorgeous—but I've seen the kinds of things that retail employees go through on a daily basis—especially during Christmas—and, well, if they're still smiling then they must be incredibly good folk.

In another life, a long time ago, I worked behind the counter for a small video rental place—we only rented out VHS tapes, if that give you any idea! Anyway, every night someone would yell at me because they returned a tape late and was charged a fee. Not only was this clearly not my fault, but I also didn't have the authority to actually do anything about it—except collect the late fee.

I know someone who used to work for a shop in Olde Mystick Village—and I have to tell you that tourists have a horrifying sense of entitlement that... *shudders* Anyway, if I told you even half of her stories of working behind the counter, your brain would shut down. The horrible things people would say to her, the folk who would cough and/or sneeze on their money and then hand it to her, and the sheer stupidity in general would just cause your synapses to stop firing.

I've never worked in a fast food restaurant, but I bet this isn't too far from the truth...

All kidding aside, these folk have to deal with people behaving badly and with a high degree of stupidity every day. They are on a short list of professions that I automatically give the benefit of the doubt to when I'm dealing with them—nursing staff are at the top of that list, by the way. I encourage you to do the same!

Also, check out the Not Always Right site, which gives real life examples of the stupid and frustrating things people do to folk working behind the counter. I'm considering linking it under Daily Dose of Joy in my sidebar!

Oh, and one more thing that I learned from my time behind the counter. One night, when someone had been particularly unpleasant to me concerning their late fee, the very next person in line smiled at me and said something like, "Wow, they were hard to deal with, huh?" It really made my day to know that someone noticed and cared that my job wasn't all that easy. Even just a smile can make a very big difference! So next time you get to the head of the line, give the person behind the counter a genuinely thankful smile, ok?

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Asplody

So, it finally happened. It happens at least once a year, during the Christmas rush. As I was running around town yesterday at about eleven o'clock in the morning to do some shopping for The Journey of Homage—well, I started out thinking, "The middle of the day on a Monday, at least I picked a time when it won't be so busy."


As I decided that maybe I wouldn't check out Wal-Mart's prices after all because the lot was full, dodged horrifying traffic in the parking lot, and then watched someone pass me cut me off and then honk at the person who had been in front of me because they were going the speed limit in the right hand lane... it finally happened. I found myself thinking, "I hate Christmastime."

It happens at least once every year, that thought, and it makes me sad for a moment, because I really don't hate Christmastime. I hate the way people treat each other on the road and in parking lots and I am not overly fond of crowds. Christmas, I like.

So I've decided to share something with you that just makes me happy. I don't know why, but apparently I'm not the only one who has watched this moment over and over again on dvd, because I found a YouTube video that not only repeats the moment, but does so in varying speeds! If you find yourself thinking, "I hate Christmastime," please watch GIR asploding until you can't stop smiling.

It works for me!

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Friday, December 11, 2009

Things He Do

It's Friday. And I feel a little bit like I might have whatever Dib's problem is...

Things he do!
Rev. Josh

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Advent Conspiracy

Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Friend Leslie.
Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Spirit of Xmas

More and more I see and hear people who are incensed at the ever common practice of saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" this time of year. I have even seen it referred to as a "war on Christmas" as if it were an attempt to do away with your rights to buy huge strings of lights, stampede Wal-Mart on Black Friday, and bake your own weight in sugar cookies.

Ok, so that was a little sarcastic, but I did it to make a point. Most Christians I know still feel free to say "Merry Christmas" wherever they feel like. It's often in the commercial context that I see and hear "Happy Holidays." And to be perfectly frank, Christians aren't the only people celebrating chrismasolstikwanzika this time of year—how can we blame the commercial sector for not wanting to offend the non-Christian folk and their money?

The other place I hear "Happy Holidays" is from myself, and others who think like me, when I do not know the religious affiliation of the person I'm speaking to. Emmi has a friend who once said... well, I can't repeat what he said. Let's just say that he colorfully exhibited his frustration at being a Hindu and being told to have a "Merry Christmas" everywhere he went.

I guess the latest chapter in the whole war on Christianity saga is completely askew. An article I recently found on-line says that people are doing away with the common abbreviation "Xmas" because it clearly is an attempt to take "Christ" out of "Christmas." The article also says that most of us aren't Greek scholars. And here's where I get frustrated, because if you know an ordained minister (and I hope if you're Christian "enough" to be mad about taking the Christ out of Christmas, you do) then you know someone who has enough Greek to set you straight on this. The "X" is not an attempt to cross out the word "Christ." It is, in fact, a Chi the Greek letter that begins the word "Christ" in it's original Greek form.

Incidentally, the last time I said "Happy Holidays" to someone I knew for a fact was not Christian (she's a rabbi) she said "Merry Christmas" to me! So, I don't see any war here. If you really want to say "Merry Christmas," to folk, go ahead and do it. If you prefer to say "Happy Holidays" to be inclusive, go right ahead. There's enough business and stress involved in this season without getting upset about a non-existent war on Christmas!

Happy Holidays
Merry Xmas
Rev. Josh

Monday, December 07, 2009

Just Silly

I've been saying for years that if our children or youth want to dye their hair purple or shave their heads or grow just one lock of hair really, really long, that we should let them do it. I don't see what it hurts for a teenager to have purple hair, unless they're old enough to be job hunting—which brings me to the point I'm trying to make. Once you're in the job hunt, the days of wearing mohawks are probably over. Let your children get it out of their system before being "presentable" becomes a necessity.

Now, there are limits, of course. I'd suggest that shaving a swastika into the back of the head should probably be a "no." I'm sure there are other symbols that we need to be aware of, too. I suspect that there may be some school dress codes that include sections on hair. And I'd never suggest that parents shouldn't be involved in the decision!

It just seems to me that our society has gotten just plain silly about being "presentable." Take this news item, for example:

Maybe there's something I'm missing there. Please tell me if I am. But the whole thing just seems... silly and overbearing.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Odd Ends

Just a few little things, some important, some maybe not as much. First of all, please notice that I've started to archive my sermons in a blog which is linked in my sidebar.

Secondly, I ran across an important piece of news. Apparently a major drugstore chain is in trouble with the law for selling over the counter drugs, baby formula, and foods as much as two years past their expiration date! The article I read breaks it down in terms of cost-effectiveness... and the sad truth is that it costs the chain less money in fines than it does to employ someone to remove (and therefore not sell) expired items. If that's true of one chain, it'll be true of others, so...

Buyer Beware: Always check the expiration date on over the counter drugs, baby formula, and food before you buy!

Finally, I've added something to my list of things all pastors she be ready for... just in case:

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Evil Empire

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to lead worship and preach while the Senior Pastor was traveling for Thanksgiving. I always love to preach, not just because I love to write and otherwise play with language, not even because the Word is at the center of Congregational worship, but mostly because there's a wonderful space between what I think I've said and what people actually hear. While that could be a frightening idea for most, I have consistently experienced God working in amazing ways within that space. I've lost count of how many times I've felt like I'd delivered a real stink-bomb of a sermon, only to have someone tell me afterwords that it was just what they needed to hear. And just as often as not, they go on to say that they heard something that I don't remember saying. In an earlier post I told a story about my friend Amory and Mr. Rogers concerning God working in that space, so I won't retell it here.

Anyway, I really enjoyed giving the sermon last Sunday. It was the first Sunday of Advent and I talked about Legos and Charlie Brown, and all kinds of happy fluffy things.

Which works just fine if you ignore the lectionary.
[Jesus said:] “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Luke 21:25-36
Whew. Kinda dark for the Christmas season, huh? But that's actually appropriate, because we aren't in the Christmas season yet, liturgically speaking. We're in Advent—we're getting ready for Christmas. The Christmas season starts on Christmas day and runs to Epiphany. You know the song, The 12 Days of Christmas? Those twelve days start on Christmas day and work their way forward!

As for the scripture lesson from last Sunday, you have to understand the darkness involved in order to see the light that it offers. You have to understand a little bit about the Roman Empire to understand what Jesus is doing here. He is standing in Jerusalem, at the Temple, foretelling the overthrow of both. And if you look at the history of the Roman Empire as it relates to Jerusalem, it wouldn't have been hard at all for his disciples to believe. Pompey had already taken Jerusalem and successfully laid siege to the Temple during the time of Julius Ceasar. After the assassination of Julius Caesar, Caesar Augustus eventually rose to power. Augustus' rise to power was complicated—laced with war, bloodshed and intrigue. Once in power he completely neutered the Senate—they knew very well that he held command of the majority of Rome's legions and could take power through sheer force.

It was during this rise to power that Herod the Great became the Roman client king of Judea. In fact, the Senate voted Herod into the position... and Judea had no choice in the matter, because Herod conquered Jerusalem with the aid of the Roman army! And he kept the throne through sheer, ruthless bloodshed. It was under the command of Herod the Great that Slaughter of the Innocents takes place. This is the political climate in which Jesus grew up.
Herod the Great's successor, Herod Antipas wasn't any better. Herod Antipas is the one who beheaded John the Baptist. In the face of such impressive violence and bloodshed, is it no wonder that Jesus preaches of a coming apocalypse which is even mightier? I mean, Rome was bad, but Jesus is talking about the destruction of the very heavens!

Now, this illustration did not fit into my sermon, but I thought it would be fun to share it here. Now think for a moment. What other story has an evil Emperor rise to power through war and intrigue? What other story has a useless and neutered Senate? What other story has an equally evil and violent Lord who does the Emperor's bidding?

On the UCC website there's a section that lists the lectionary texts for the day and provides some commentary. In the commentary for last Sunday's Gospel text, Kate Huey writes:
When we recall that the sun was the symbol of Rome itself, while the moon and the stars represented the empire's client kings clustered around it, we can better understand that, when Luke is talking about the "powers of the heavens" being shaken, it's a kind of code: "It is not the end of the cosmos, as Mark has it, but the shaking of the earthly principalities and powers that is referenced here," William Herzog writes in New Proclamation 2006. I wonder if young adults might relate this in a way to the destruction of the Death Star in their own epic, the Star Wars trilogy. The language of empire was also used in that series to describe the terrible might of the evil power that oppressed planets and galaxies. Empires come and empires go, but they rarely come or go gently, or quietly.
The answer is yes, yes we do.

And so the best way for me to explain the hope inherent in Jesus' apocalyptic talk of the heavens coming down is this:

May the Force be with you.
Rev. Josh

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Journey of Homage

The Journey of Homage is an outreach project where we collect items to make up Christmas gifts for the homeless and needy of a nearby city and then hit the streets, giving the gifts to the people we find there. It really is just that simple. This year I am collecting new—well, let me stop there for a second to explain.

We collect new items because, well, would you want to receive a second-hand Christmas gift? I mean, you can call it "gently used" as much as you like, but if you were to get it as your only Christmas gift this year, wouldn't you feel bad, knowing that folk thought you weren't good enough for something new?

Where was I? Oh yes, this year I am collecting new warm winter hats, durable winter gloves, simple tube socks—but wait, let me explain.

I'm trying to collect this clothing in men's sizes and colors because my contact in the city tells me that most of the people we're going to find are men. The same contact has reminded me that the homeless do not have any way of washing their clothes, especially in the winter, so any socks they receive get warn until they're just too disgusting to have on anymore—at which point they must be thrown away. So simple tube socks are the best.

Where was I? Oh yes, this year I am collecting new warm winter hats, durable winter gloves, simple tube socks, $5 gift cards to Dunkin' Donuts—

Why only $5? Because the cards are not so much about feeding the folk as it is about getting them off the street into someplace warm for a while. If you look like you're homeless and you sit down in a Dunkin' Donuts to warm up, you'll probably be asked to leave. But if you walk in and buy a cup of coffee, sit down and nurse it for a while... then you're a customer. A real live, not freezing to death on the street customer! And why Dunkin' Donuts? Because my contact in the city tells me that there are several near where the folk are likely to be. Fast food restaurants would work just as well if they didn't have to walk across the city to get to them!

Where was I? Oh yes, this year I am collecting new warm winter hats, durable winter gloves, simple tube socks, $5 gift cards to Dunkin' Donuts, and Christmas gift bags large enough to hold one of each item!

"That's all very good, Rev. Josh" I imagine you saying to your computer screen, "but why is it called The Journey of Homage?" I'm glad you asked! First of all, "homage" isn't much used any more, I know. Just follow the link in that last sentence for a dictionary definition. But here's an example of the word used in a sentence:
On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Matthew 2:11
One of the reasons we give gifts in this season is because these Magi or Wise Men gave these gifts of homage to Jesus. So in what way is this outreach project a journey of homage like that of the Magi? Well, scripture also says:
Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'

Matthew 25:37-40
For the whole story, check out Matthew 25:31-46. But you get the point, don't you? According to the Gospel, the way to give homage to Jesus is to pay homage to the least of those among us.

Even though I happily take credit for bringing the Journey of Homage to each of the churches I serve, I must give credit where credit is due. The real mastermind, the person who had the idea and immediately acted on it, was one of my classmates at Andover Newton Theological School, Preston. It's been a few years, but the way I remember it, it went something like this: One year, sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Preston and his wife rode the T out of Boston back to Newton after doing some Christmas shopping. And they discussed the homeless woman they'd seen pan-handling in the T station. And they agreed that it would be nice if they could give her a useful Christmas present. So they spoke with everyone they could manage and they collected new hats, gloves, socks, and gift certificates to fast food restaurants and packed them into nice gift bags. Then they got as many folk as they could and took the gifts into Boston and hit the streets, giving them to the homeless folk wherever they could be found.

I was one of those people, and one of the ways we found enough hands to give out presents was to bring our youth groups with us. We found a man standing outside of Macy's with a dixie cup and an illegible sign crafted from the bottom of a cardboard box and a dead magic marker. I watched people loaded down with their Christmas shopping pass by him without pause or eye contact as two of our youth approached him with a gift. They said, "Hi, we're from 2nd Congregational Church of Newton, and we'd like you to have this. Merry Christmas!" and then they started to leave. But the man said, "Girls, wait!" and he bent down to lift up his pant leg. And I could see from where I was standing that his leg was a road-map of scarring. He said, "I got that in Vietnam. And I always knew that I must have been fighting for something. But until now, I didn't know what it was."

'Nuff said.
Rev. Josh

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Urban Legends

I just caught myself almost getting taken in by an urban legend brought to my attention through the wonders of Facebook. Now, don't get me wrong, I think that e-mail is a wonderful tool when used correctly. I believe that social networking sites like Facebook are a wonderful tool when used correctly. However, I have also seen otherwise intelligent and discerning folk take at face value information coming to them through Facebook in the form of polls to take and groups/causes to join.

The one that almost caught me was a poll asking "Is he a christian????" The underlying text reads:
Your friend voted "No" in the President Obama says that they will have a Holiday Tree this year instead of a Christmas Tree. Do you agree with this? Poll!

What do you say? 381,865 people have already voted!

President Obama says that they will have a Holiday Tree this year instead of a Christmas Tree. Do you agree with this?
I immediately started to comment on the item, because in my opinion it would depend on which tree and in what capacity President Obama was speaking. After all, the separation of church and state is what allows the freedom of religious expression that we all enjoy—and is a large reason why we can question the religiosity of the President of the United States with impunity! But before I posted my comment I thought, "Wait, I wonder if it's even true...?" So I did a Google search for "Obama Holiday Tree" and found... not one news item. What I did find was an article at FactCheck.org entitled "Holiday Tree" Hooey. I'd never heard of FactCheck.org, so I went flying over to Snopes.com where I found a similar article.

So, just for the record... President Obama has not changed the name of any of the traditional Christmas trees in Washington D.C. The claim is an urban legend at best and an unsubstantiated and malicious attempt to smear the President of the United States at worst.

But on a larger level, no matter where you stand on issues of the separation of church and state or the current president or whatever it is today, we all have a responsibility to not spread disinformation and falsehood. Please pause for a moment before hitting "Forward" on that e-mail, or taking that poll, or joining that group/cause. Do a Google search. Run over to my sidebar and click on FactCheck.org or Snopes.com and see if it's true first.

That way, you won't waste your precious time and energy in needless arguments. And you won't be an unwitting agent in spreading information that is simply and categorically false!

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Friday, November 06, 2009

Food Fight!!!

The last time I had the opportunity to preach, it was World Communion Sunday, and I made sure to make some points about why it is that the eminent Sacrament revolves around eating and drinking. If you go back and look at the gospels as a whole, Jesus does a lot of his ministry around food. And there's simply something special about breaking bread together that helps form relationships. It's not by chance that I chose to go out for pizza with the Senior High Youth for a get-to-know-you event. It's not surprising that a central piece of my weekly staff meeting is who's turn it is to buy Dunkin' Donuts for the group—I really do enjoy their pumpkin muffins... mmm... Where was I? Ah yes, food.

I can't help but notice that there are a lot of folk in the church I now serve who have been reaching out to me with food. And that's good! Food is good, but just like all good things, there are ways for it to go badly. I myself used to eat poorly and exercise irregularly (if at all) and my weight and health reflected that. Luckily, a dear friend turned me on to Weight Watchers, or rather to their method of keeping track of what I eat. I haven't gone to any of their support meetings, and the information I used was handed down to me.

My point is that I lost a significant amount of weight in a controlled and healthy way—and I am still keeping track of what I eat in order to maintain my current, healthy weight. Basically I have an allotment of Weight Watchers points (I usually eat 6 for breakfast and 8 for lunch and dinner) and then four meals where I can eat whatever I want. Which is good, because I hate to turn down gifts of food. One of these days, though, somebody is going to try to hand me one of those tasty pumpkin muffins and I'm not going to have the 14 points to spare.

You read that right. Fourteen. Calculate it yourself if don't believe me.

Now, I need you all to believe me when I say that I'm aware of the huge issues many people have with healthy eating. One of my favorite people has struggled with an eating disorder—and even though I haven't heard about it just lately, I suspect that she struggles still. If you want or need to know more about eating disorders and what to do about them, please go to the Mayo Clinic and/or The Nemours Foundation site as soon as possible. Both of those websites seem to be pretty good places to go for health information—but if your experience isn't the same as mine, I hope you'll tell me!

So if you happen to be the person I have to turn down food from, please forgive me!

Your body is a temple, so be good to it.
And be good to each other!
Rev. Josh

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

High Expectations

For those of you who don't know, I found a place to be! I am the new Associate Minister for Youth for a small UCC congregation in the Connecticut Conference.

My new position is both exciting and terrifying—as it should be! I'm primarily responsible for the youth ministry of the church I'm serving. But more than that, I'm expected to expand and grow that youth ministry into something bigger! Bigger in numbers of youth involved, bigger in ecumenical and even interfaith terms! I wonder how I am going to do some of what I'm expected to one day accomplish here without violating the separation of church and state...

Anyway, I'd hoped to have the blog all updated and shiny and new looking right when I came into this new position, but very quickly other tasks rose to the top of my "to do" list. So instead I've been here just long enough to fall down once or twice. But what else is new? I'm human. I make mistakes. I hope that what matters is that I apologize up front and learn from my mistakes as I go.

In all honesty, I'd rather make mistakes and learn something new than do everything perfect the first time and never learn anything. And I hope the world can cut me some slack when I do.

I promise to do the same for the world.

Be good to each other!
Rev. Josh

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Let Me Explain...

...no, there is too much, let me sum up.

I spoke about tying up loose ends in my previous post. Well, ends have been tied and my days of serving that particular church as its associate pastor have ended. My last Sunday was a very emotional one—especially because of all the beautiful things that people had to say. It has occurred to me that I may have the only copies of some of those things, and that other folk might want to read them—so even though my humble nature screams out in protest, I'll post them here.


For the generous and joyful spirit, which you’ve shown us, we thank you.

As we are all God’s children, you have called out to the child-like and the childish to join you: we thank you for your light.

For the contagiousness of songs sung at Silver Lake, brought into the sanctuary, we thank you for lifting our spirits in a new and joyful song.

For bringing cymbal, guitar and video into worship, you have shown us a new way to conduct ourselves and to keep ourselves alive! At five! Thank you for this new life-style.

For worship through stories, myths, fables and rock lyrics, we have tried to look at God’s work in different ways.

We see a striving and hope with the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, for freedom from oppression. You have lead us into Narnia with Prince Caspian to seek justice.

For those who have had ears to listen, and eyes to see the myth-reality of the world gone mad of C.S. Lewis, we thank you for our sojourn into fantasy. It has quickened our spirits and enriched our souls.

For Dragon Pastor’s Hyperdrive, for poetry and video and bloggy sights and sounds, we thank you for your wit, your resourcefulness, your love of whimsey and your loving kindness for all people. For little people, for big people, for young people, for old people and shut-ins, for [oh my gosh! Teenagers! Aaargh!], we thank you for your love of gays and lesbians, for handicapped and autistic, for under-privileged and even the over-indulged. You have been a blessing to us.

You have led us on a journey, and not just on Christmas and to homage, but on a journey in earnest to love one another as Christ loves us.

Do we need a labyrinth to remind us of our lives of prayer and reflective meditation? The convoluted lives we lead and the myriad thoughts we have cannot match the wonder of your thoughtfulness. From insecurity and unsure footing and jump-starts of your ministry, we have seen you weave a tapestry, a rubric of relationships that rival any labyrinth of thought and reflective deed, so that your sermons have grown stronger, your voice has grown in confidence and your faith, certainly has expanded and matured. And oh, yes, we shall remember to be good to one another, as you have told us to be many times.

Thank you, Josh.

Poem for Josh
The love that is in you,
Transferred like communion to the heart
I take
While God's in everything and everything's in you

I have thoughts of you
Still wandering the high school halls
And church aisles.
Your feet have never failed you
they brought you through and past any terror
They brought you here.

Yet, with your faith
You've taken all of us on a trip
You brought us through and past any terror
A congregation's mirror
There's so much beauty and change shining through.
With grateful souls, we thank you.

God's in everything and everything's in you
Be good to each other
Rev. Josh

Friday, March 13, 2009

Tear in Your Hand

So yeah, I've been tying up loose ends and carefully packing up my life here because my position at the church here has been cut. I've been so busy trying to do the all the right and important things as I get ready to leave, that I hardly remembered that I got to have a birthday this year.

So it was very nearly a surprise when one of my favorite people came through the line after church last Sunday and handed me a card.
"Happy birthday, Josh!" she beamed at me.
"Oh!" I said, a little surpised as I took the card, "Thank you!"
"Open it!!" she insisted. So I carefully opened the card, in case something should fall out of it. Nothing did. I read the pre-printed text of the card first, a generic "happy birthday" kind of sentiment. I could feel her continue to beam as I read the handwritten note.
Happy Birthday, Josh
Neil Gaimen
I did a double-take, surprised and overjoyed as she laughed aloud—delighted, both of us. A few days later, she sent me a message via Facebook with a description from her personal journal of her trip into the city to meet Neil and get some things signed.
"Hi Neil!"
He gave me a huge smile, the biggest cresent moon without teeth but open like we were friends in the past. I don't remember the order of the things he signed, but here are my immediate notes. "My name's Elizabeth"
He looked down at Fragile Things,
Elizabeth, lovely name. With an s or a zed"
"A zed"
"I love your books, I'm sure you hear that all the time." I could see the tips of his smile through out the sinage and it made me truly joyful to see him smile because of what I'm saying, and he's listening. When he spoke to me, it was slow and I didn't feel rushed at all.
"When I would read your stuff and listen to Tori in highschool, I thought 'oh my gosh, there are still lovely and decent people in the world.'
"Tori is lovely, I am the latter" he said with self depricating smile.
When I showed him the poster:
He did a little gasp and said, "oh, that's Tori"
"Those are my favorite"
He asked me where to sign, I said anywhere
"I'm going to use the red pen and as he pointed to the place, right here."
When given Josh's card:
I said, "He introduced me to you and Tori. It's his birthday on Tuesday. It a pity because he's getting laid off. It really hurts."

I was really struck by her words, well, first of all just because I like her writing—then because I think I knew that I'd introduced her to Tori's music but I hadn't quite known that I'd introduced her to both Tori and Neil's work. Then I was struck by how something so inconsequential turned out not to be. I had no idea that the simple act of identifying some of my favorite music, some of my favorite writing, would lead to the thought, "Oh my gosh, there are still lovely and decent people in the world." Then, finally—though certainly not least—I was struck by the very simple and honest reaction to my current situation. It is a pity that I cannot continue as pastor of this church. And it does really hurt.

But as I'm writing this, my iPod is playing "Dare! Dare to believe you can survive! You hold the future in your hand. Dare! Dare to keep all your dreams alive..." I truly believe that God talks to us through music and literature and film and art in general. Keep your ears and your hearts open, dear and faithful readers, because you never know when something new to you might make you think, "Oh my gosh, there are still lovely and decent people in the world."

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Song lyrics | Goodnight lyrics

Friday, February 27, 2009

Oh no! Skynet!

I can't remember if I've said it here in the ol' blog, because I've said it so many times in so many other places, but I'm of the generation that computers grew up with me. I will always remember playing games like Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego and The Oregon Trail on both my family's Apple IIe and the Apple IIgs at school! That's right, back when floppy disks were actually floppy—and existed. You and your new-fangled CD-RWs! Hey, you kids! Get off my lawn!

Where was I? Oh yeah. I clearly remember when movies like The Terminator were the new, cool thing. The Terminator—as well as any number of other, less well-known films in the 80's—had the unifying theme of a fear of technology taking over. I also clearly remember this counter argument from the film Short Circuit, when Steve Gutenberg's charcter waxes poetic about a robot, saying "It doesn't get happy, it doesn't get sad, it doesn't laugh at your jokes, it just runs programs!"

Now it's true that computers can play chess and that robots can construct automobiles, but they can't do those things without being programmed by a human being to do them. It is also true that some truly wonderful music has been created primarily through electronic means. It is most definately true that some of the most brilliant and moving animated films of the last decade have been created through the use of computer animation. However, the heart and soul of music and storytelling/filmmaking still comes from the talented human people who utilize these tools.

And that's ultimately the point I'm trying to make. Computers are a tool. Your iPod is a tool. E-mail is a tool. As are Facebook, MySpace, AIM, and your cell phone. These tools can be misused, just like any other tool. You can keep a candle upright in that candlestick, or you can murder your neighbor with it. The candlestick, in and of itself, lies blameless in both counts. It's what you do with it that matters.

So, I was interested to see the following post on Neil Gaiman's blog. He writes:
Just a quick one, as a follow-up to http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2009/02/quick-argument-summary.html and http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2009/02/zoom-zzzzoom.html.


1) go and read Wil Wheaton's post http://wilwheaton.typepad.com/wwdnbackup/2009/02/wil-wheaton-vs-text-2-speech.html

2) Listen, actually listen to Wil and "Alex" reading at http://wilwheaton.typepad.com/files/wil_wheaton_vs_text_2_speech.mp3

3) Now imagine a world in which someone sits with a novel on the screen and carefully codes every character and tone of voice, every emotion. Imagine the time involved, and the effort involved in making something that, no matter how good it ever gets, will not be as good as a person reading it. This isn't teaching a computer to play chess.

An audio book, read by someone who's good at it, is an audio book, an experience that's different to, sometimes complementary to, the words on the page. A computer reading to you is a computer reading to you. And at the point where they can read books to us as well as we can read them aloud to each other, we will have other things to worry about.

Which—I think—is right on. But more telling is the response that Neil received to his orginal post:
I'm glad to know that you support the Kindle text to speech capability. As a C-4 quadriplegic due to a spinal cord injury a few years ago recent improvements in technology allow me the independence to write this e-mail with assistance only from my computer, software and a microphone. However the technology is still young, clunky and not without drawbacks. (It will probably take longer to "write" this short e-mail than it did to listen to my friend read me the first chapter of Coraline!) (Don't ask how long it took me to write the word Coraline either-twice even!) Because there isn't big money for marketing products for para and quads we have to rely on technology progressing just for the sake of technology progressing. I think it would be silly and sad to slow improvments just because of money issues. Thanks for supporting technology and hope to see you at comic-con. -Brook McCall

As Stan Lee would say, "'Nuff said."

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

PS Do go to Wil Wheaton's Blog and check out the MP3 of "wil wheaton vs. text 2 speech" It's pretty telling.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Labyrinth

If you're expecting me to wax poetic about a
movie from my childhood featuring David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly, then you are—well, actually, that does sound a lot like me, doesn't it? After all, Jim Henson is my hero. But that's not what I have in mind this morning.

What I have in mind is most famously exemplified in Cath├ędrale Notre-Dame de Chartres. It isn't a maze, like you find in the Jim Henson film, because there are no dead ends. It has only one path, so you can't get lost. Which may lead you to ask me, "What is the point of the thing?" Well, I'll tell you: walking this kind of labyrinth is a spiritual practice.

How so? Well, the winding path is a metaphor for your life's journey. Much like the point I made in an earlier post, as long as you keep carefully moving forward, eventually you'll get to the center. There are going to be twists along the way, so you'll have to be paying close attention in order to stay on the path. There are going to be times that the goal is tantilizingly close, only to recede again, but don't be discouraged—keep going and you'll make it.

I have had the opportunity to walk labyrinths in the past, and I wish I had a full-sized one to utilize on a regular basis. I do, however, have a minature version that was given to me as a present from a very dear friend. Instead of walking the path, I trace it out with the included stylus. Whether I'm walking a full-sized one, or simply tracing the path out on my pewter one, I find that it helps me clear my mind and open myself to hearing whatever it is that God may be trying to say to me. If I have a problem, or a difficult decision, going through the labyrinth often helps me find the proper perspective. And if I enter the labyrinth anxious or upset it forces me to slow down—and by the time I come back out of the labyrinth I am calm once more.

And knowing all of this is all well and good, but no use to you if you don't have access to a labyrinth of your own. Well, not to worry! You don't need a fancy pewter one—although mine is very nice. You can certainly live without a full-sized one—although I wish I had one I could use. I've found that simply having the pattern printed out on a piece of paper does the trick, so here's a pdf file diagram of the Chartres labyrinth for you to use at your leisure!

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

PS Here's a video about walking the labyrinth!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fat Sunday

Ever since Katrina, the church I serve has been putting on a top-notch
celebratory jazz service for worship the Sunday before Lent starts. We take a special collection for Gulf Coast relief—and yes, there is still need, even after all this time.

This year, for the sermon, I found some poetry by James Weldon Johnson. I read two of them, with a little explanation of my own wedged between, while Dr. Joe did some awesome jazz piano stuff underneath—he even managed to work in the tunes of all the spirituals mentioned in the second poem. I wish I had his music for you to listen to while you read these, but... I guess we'll just have to settle for the words.

Listen, Lord—A Prayer

O Lord, we come this morning
Knee-bowed and body-bent
Before thy throne of grace.
O Lord—this morning—
Bow our hearts beneath our knees,
And our knees in some lonesome valley.
We come this morning—
Like empty pitchers to a full fountain,
With no merits of our own.
O Lord—open up a window of heaven,
And lean out far over the battlements of glory,
And listen this morning.

Lord, have mercy on proud and dying sinners—
Sinners hanging over the mouth of hell,
Who seem to love their distance well.
Lord—ride by this morning—
Mount your milk-white horse,
And ride-a this morning—
And in your ride, ride by old hell,
Ride by the dingy gates of hell,
And stop poor sinners in their headlong plunge.

And now, O Lord, this man of God,
Who breaks the bread of life this morning—
Shadow him in the hollow of thy hand,
And keep him out of the gunshot of the devil.
Take him, Lord—this morning—
Wash him with hyssop inside and out,
Hang him up and drain him dry of sin.
Pin his ear to the wisdom-post,
And make his words sledge hammers of truth—
Beating on the iron heart of sin.

Lord God, this morning—
Put his eye to the telescope of eternity,
And let him look upon the paper walls of time.
Lord, turpentine his imagination,
Put perpetual motion in his arms,
Fill him full of the dynamite of thy power,
Anoint him all over with the oil of thy salvation,
And set his tongue on fire.

And now, O Lord—
When I’ve done drunk my last cup of sorrow—
When I’ve been called everything but a child of God—
When I’m done traveling up the rough side of the mountain—
O—Mary’s Baby—
When I start down the steep and slippery steps of death—
When this old world begins to rock beneath my feet—
Lower me to my dusty grave in peace
To wait for that great gittin’ up morning—Amen.

James Weldon Johnson

James Johnson was an African American author, politician, diplomat, critic, journalist, poet, anthologist, educator, lawyer, songwriter, early civil rights activist, and prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance. He was one of the first African-American professors at New York University and later in life he was a professor of creative literature and writing at Fisk. James Johnson was born in 1971 and died in 1938 and so he would have been in his 20s during the early days of Jazz. As you hear this next poem, I want you to think about his ancestors, only a generation before, toiling in the fields under their harsh masters. I want you to ask yourself how they continued on in the face of backbreaking labor and little hope of freedom. And I want you to answer yourself, “With the help of God.”

O Black and Unknown Bards

O black and unknown bards of long ago,
How came your lips to touch the sacred fire?
How, in your darkness, did you come to know
The power and beauty of the minstrel’s lyre?
Who first from midst his bonds lifted his eyes?
Who first from out the still watch, lone and long,
Feeling the ancient faith of prophets rise
Within his dark-kept soul, burst into song?

Heart of what slave poured out such melody
As “Steal away to Jesus”? On its strains
His spirit must have nightly floated free,
Though still about his hands he felt his chains.
Who heard great “Jordan roll”? Whose starward eye
Saw chariot “swing low”? And who was he
That breathed that comforting, melodic sigh,
“Nobody knows de trouble I see”?

What merely captive thing,
Could up toward God through all its darkness grope,
And find within its deadened heart to sing
These songs of sorrow, love and faith, and hope?
How did it catch that subtle undertone,
That not in music heard not with the ears?
How sound the elusive reed so seldom blown,
Which stirs the soul or melts the heart to tears.

Not that great German master in his dream
Of harmonies that thundered amongst the stars
At the creation, ever heard a theme
Nobler than “God down, Moses.” Mark its bars
How like a mighty trumpet-call they stir
The blood. Such are the notes that men have sung
Going to valorous deeds; such tones there were
That helped make history when Time was young.

There is a wide, wide wonder in it all,
That from degraded rest and servile toil
The fiery spirit of the seer should call
These simple children of the sun and soil.
O black slave singers, gone, forgot, unfamed,
You—you alone, of all the long, long line
Of those who’ve sung untaught, unknown, unnamed,
Have stretched out upward, seeking the divine.

You sang not deeds of heroes or of kings;
No chant of bloody war, no exulting paean
Of arms-won triumphs; but your humble strings
You touched in chord with music empyrean
You sang far better than you knew; the songs
That for your listeners’ hungry hearts sufficed
Still live,--but more than this to you belongs:
You sang a race from wood and stone to Christ.

James Weldon Johnson

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Friday, February 20, 2009

Breaks My Heart

I don't usually post twice in one day like this, but I just received an e-mail containing the video below from our beloved (and very out) organist here at the church I serve...

"Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

I am still wiping away tears as I type this. I have already said publically, and I shall do so again here and now, that when you talk about "gay marriage" you're talking about my co-workers, my friends, neighbors and loved ones. You are talking about people I know and love. Dearly. I try not to get political in this blog, but I have to say this much at least. From where I stand, if the definition of "marriage" is a legal issue, then every couple must be given the same liberties, rights, and responsibilities under both Federal and State Law or else we are dealing with a Civil Rights issue. If the definition of "marriage" is a religious issue, then the government is required to get out of it or else we are violating the Separation of Church and State. So whether or not your theology allows you to embrace LGBT folk as loved and accepted by God just the way they are, this Proposition is just wrong.

You don't have to agree with me, but you do need to
Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh


Competitive sports, especially professional ones, have grated on me for years. I'll freely admit that part of that has to do with my trying on just about everything I could growing up, baseball, basketball... the usual suspects—and I discovered that sports just weren't where my talents lie. More than that, though, I think that all my experiences of poor sportsmenship—both personally and in the media—soured my joy for what is, at its heart, a game. I've simply had a difficult time connecting to something that produces bullpen assaults, basketball brawls, and killer hockey dads.

However, the recent fantastic sportsmanship and attitudes of blown out Dallas Acadamy team helped me begin to see why people love sports once more. And the story of the Barbs playing a non-conference game on the road against Milwaukee Madison has helped me restore my faith in sport-loving humanity even further!

The two high schools were developing the kind of friendly rivalry that begins with really close games on the court and ends with sodas and pizza together off the court. But this game, their third, almost didn't happen at all. You see, late that afternoon, Milwaukee Madison senior captain Johntel Franklin was at the hospital when the decision was made to turn off the life-support system for his mother, Carlitha Franklin. She died just hours before the game. It was young Franklin who countermanded Coach Aaron Womack Jr's decision to cancel the game, saying that he wanted them to play.

It was early in the second quarter and the game was already very close when Womack spotted Franklin in the stands. He immediately called a time out and Womack and his team went up into the stands and hugged their grieving teammate.

"We got back to playing the game and I asked if he wanted to come and sit on the bench," Womack said during a telephone interview.

"No," Franklin replied. "I want to play."

Since Franklin's name hadn't made it on to the pre-game roster, putting him in would mean committing a technical foul, but Womack felt that letting the grieving young man play was more important than winning a close game so he chose to take the foul. Despite the closeness of the game, Coach Dave Rohlman did not want his team to take advantage of the technical foul. He reluctantly called for a volunteer to take two free throws after the referees made it clear that he could not wave them.

Darius McNeal raised his hand, and after Rohlman asked him a single question he simply nodded his head and went out to the foul line.

His first attempt made it about two feet.

His second barely left his hand.

The Milwaukee team stood as one, turned toward the Barbs bench and applauded their sportsmanship—the crowd followed suit.

"I did it for the guy who lost his mom," McNeal told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "It was the right thing to do."

The record will show that the Milwaukee team won 62-47. But as I imagine the two teams sharing pizza after the game, I doubt that the score was all that important to them.

They're all winners in my book.

Be good to each other
Rev. Josh

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Valentine Potluck

I helped a dear friend move on Valentine's Day this year, so I was unable to go to the church's annual Valentine Potluck and Talent Show. But I did get this wonderful YouTube video of one of our youth performing "I Was Born to Entertain" from the show Ruthless! Enjoy!

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thursday, February 12, 2009

And They'll Know We Are Christians

I don't know if any of you saw this story when it first hit, but it has stuck with me so I thought I would share it with you all.

I also found this...

And so... I have to ask the question... who do you think won that game?

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Friday, February 06, 2009

The God Space

I've been thinking a lot about preaching lately. Partly because of this year's General Association, and partly because of all the things that go along with the professional transition I have coming down the pipe. I think I will always remember what it was like to preach my candidating sermon for the church I'm currently serving. For one thing, the church had been struck by lightning the night before, and it was not until that morning that they discovered that the sound system for the sanctuary had been fried. I'll always remember Eric booking out of the sanctuary and returnining with an electric podium and a coil of extension cord! And I distictly remember answering a question afterword about preaching. I said that what I write and say are not necissarily what the congregation hears. And that's a good thing! Because I have found that God can and frequently does wonderful things in that place between what I say and what you hear. That's when I saw this excited hand shoot up in the second or third row. It belonged to Amory, a divorced mother of two teenage boys who later became one of our youth advisors. "Yes?" I acknowledged Amory and her hand. "Fred Rogers calls that 'The God Space'!" she exclaimed!

I don't know how well known the Reverend Fred Rogers is anymore. To me it feels like he died just recently, but it has actually been about 6 years. But perhaps his television show lives on in reruns on Public Televsion. Maybe you've heard of it? It was called Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

Anyway, Amory's citation of Fred Rogers tickled me to no end, and I probably told her right there that I was going to remember it and use it—and I have, in this poem:

Fred Rogers Called That “The God Space”

It starts with a word.
Sometimes it’s a hard word, but that’s where it starts.
The empty kind: Where I desperately hope that inspiration hides.
The full kind: My mind links association to association.
Tell stories, teach history, quote wise people, living and dead.
Make connections for today, our lives, to The Word.
Pray without ceasing.
Make connections for today, our lives.
Tell stories, teach history, quote wise people, living and dead.
Into stillness, the full kind: My mind links association to association.
The empty kind: Where I desperately hope that inspiration hides.
Into the space that lies between what I have said and what has been heard.
The space where the Holy Spirit loves to work on each of us.
Never forget that it starts with a word.
Sometimes it’s a hard word.
But that is still
Where it starts.

Joshua J Sander 12/15/08

I like you just the way you are,
Rev. Josh

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Spoon Theory

That's right, Spoon Theory. It's not one of those new-fangled quantum physics things. Nor is it a sly way for me to make reference to The Tick and his nonsensical battlecry. Spoon Theory is a very concrete way for folk living with chronic diseases and conditions to help the rest of us understand what it's like to be sick.

Spoon Theory comes from short story by Christine Miserandino about a conversation she had with a friend about what it is like for Christine to live with Lupus. Please take the time to read the full story at ButYouDon'tLookSick.com.

Go ahead, I'll wait...

Okay, fine, here's a thumbnail version I found on YouTube, but please understand that I do not have the rights to the story, and neither does the person who made the video, so do me a favor and read the full story at ButYouDon'tLookSick.com!

I would be remiss if I did not thank a dear friend, who struggles with Fibromyalgia, for stopping and explaining to me what she meant when she told me one day that she "didn't have enough spoons" for something or other. I already felt blessed by her friendship, and now I feel twice-blessed that she would utilize any of her hard-won spoons on me!

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


Yup, I've been slacking off on my blog entries. A dear friend almost gleefully told me, "Yeah! Your last post was Halloween!!" Which is just embarrassing. However, I thought I should tell you, faithful readers—and you must be either faithful or new to my blog if you're reading this after so many months of nothing—what I told him. One of the reasons I haven't updated in so long is because at work I have my blog set to my home page—and I felt that I needed to be taking my own advice in recent months.

With the extreme downturn in the economy, the church I serve has been forced to drastically cut its budget across the board—and eliminate the position I currently hold. So the message I had for all of you about how we can't always go the old and familiar ways, the message about how sometimes there's something scary between where you are and where you need to get to, the message about how even though it might not be obvious but there is always a way forward... I needed that message myself!

It's a little bit like "Be careful what you wish for." or "Practice what you preach." Don't you think? "Be careful what you post, or you might need it yourself?"

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh