May 10, 2010

How a United Methodist Pastor became a Presbyterian

umc_to_pcusa.gifMany people ask me how and why I switched from the United Methodist Church to the Presbyterian Church (USA). Usually I just tell them it's a long story and, in short, I found it easier to switch denominations than to switch Annual Conferences within the United Methodist Church. And while that's true, it's not the whole truth.

So I decided for myself, and for others, to record the long story.

Continue reading "How a United Methodist Pastor became a Presbyterian" »

June 3, 2009

The Chaotic Good Preacher

alignment chartAs a rule, I enjoy taxonomies, typologies, personality inventories, and the ilk. I've been Meyers Briggsed, Strong Campbelled, Corinne Wared, Gallup Strengths Findered, Enneagrammed, and the list goes on.

But, honestly, I'm not sure any of them are much better or worse than the good old D&D alignment matrix. In old school D&D you choose an alignment to describe the ethos of your character. You can, on one axis, be Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic in relationship to your adherence to authority, and on the other axis be Good, Neutral, or Evil in what, in game terms, boils down to your own sense of altruism. In D&D terms, Evil characters are always out for self enrichment and use other people to achieve their own ends.

When applied to real life the alignment grid becomes very interesting. As a pastor in a major, mainline denomination (perhaps two of them) you might predict that I'd be Lawful Good, seeking to maintain social order and promote the common good. It's the classic Paladin alignment after all. But, actually, in testing and in practice, I'm Chaotic Good, and not accidentally so.

I'm fairly suspicious of institutions, whether governmental or ecclesiastical, and not that I doubt the good intentions of the leadership, though sometimes I do. Moreso I question the overall efficacy of such institutions and their ability to really do anything of worth. The bigger the institution, the more out of touch it is. And that's not just my experience, it's my theological reasoning as well. A key biblical text for me in this regard is 1 Samuel 8 which describes what a king does to his people.

Also, I'm just suspicious of moral frameworks in general. After all the fall was caused not by eating an apple, but eating of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Morality is a curse in the context of Genesis 3 and one could argue that the rest of the Bible is dealing with that curse.

So, I'm a Chaotic Good Preacher. I believe that Good is best expressed in individual actions of compassion and justice and not in institutional expressions of the same. Sometimes the system works, sure, but even a blind pig finds an acorn once in awhile.

Practically this means I preach about grace and joy found in concrete expressions of individual's life and charity found in the life of the community. As a leader I try to be sure that my institution for which I'm paradoxically responsible is a permission giving body that tries to chart a course for the body, and then pretty much stays out of the way, giving resources and support, rather than micromanaging. In other words, I try never to let the rules stand in the way of a good idea.

July 26, 2008

"I'm being tortured in my home by this satanic power, man..."

This is an actual answering machine message left at my church. I have no idea who the guy is.

It's creepy and disturbing but kinda cool in a Tarantinoesque kinda way. I love the guy's voice. I'm not sure if the last two lines are supposed to be a threat or not, but I think they are.

June 20, 2008

I Found Jesus at Camp!

He was underneath the table in the Dining Hall. I'm volunteering at camp this week as "Pastor in Residence" and I found him while I was helping clean. So for all of you who have been trying to find Jesus, relax. I found him.

It's a pretty cool gig being Pastor in Residence here. I get to do a lot of fun things. For my closing prayer last night in worship I set up a large pendulum in the pavilion, invoked the First Law of Thermodynamics, Newton's First Law of Motion, and quoted Billy Bragg. Life is good.

Continue reading "I Found Jesus at Camp!" »

April 4, 2008

God Rocks - A RockuMockumentary

God Rocks is the first feature film by Duluth based 4 Track Films. It's set to be released soon. It features a lot of people I know and love. It looks hilarious.

March 20, 2008

No One Expects...

So I'm quickly clicking through my RSS news feeds, having a backlog of over a hundred stories, and this headline quickly flashes before my eyes...


What's the first thing you would think of?

Yeah, not me. The first thing I thought of was the Inquisition and who the hell did the Catholic church lock up for 5 years and what for?

Yes, I'm that big of a dork that that's the way my mind works.

Besides... what would a sports story be doing in my RSS feeds?

February 13, 2008


fasting.jpgI'm a week into my Lenten fast with mixed results. I decided not to eat any solid food between sunrise and sunset during Lent this year (not including Sundays). So far the good points of the fast have been:

  • Increased awareness of my eating habits - Nothing sharpens your awareness of what and how you eat than stopping it.

  • Increased awareness of the cycles of light and dark around me - I'm charting sunrise and sunset on my computer desktop.

  • Starting the day earlier - You might think this is a downside, but I'm enjoying the early start.

Difficulties have been:

  • Increased irritability especially in the midafternoon - My kids have told me if I don't get a grip and stop being so snippy in the afternoon I will have to break my fast. It's good to have children who look after you.

  • Having to turn down offers of food - I was at a church lunch today and I'm sure I appeared ingracious when I turned down the food, even though I explained I was fasting.

I really haven't been craving food as bad as I thought. The interesting thing about this fast, of course, is that it will become harder as the days lengthen over the next 5 weeks. The difference in daylight between the first day of Lent and the last is over 2 hours.

I'd like to say I've had some great spiritual insight in this fast, but not so far. Just working out the mechanics of it, however, has taught me some things. One thing I've started doing is making sure the kitchen is clean and ready before I go to bed. That way when I get up I can get straight to fixing breakfast without having to clean up after myself from the day before.

It's this sort of little change in habits that I love about fasts.

So, are you fasting for Lent?

January 8, 2008

Hello Armageddon!

I've been watching Robot Chicken on my Netflix Queue. Not for the faint of heart, but this clip made me chortle with joy.

November 10, 2007

Katie & Martin

luther13.jpgAs long as I'm posting plays, I thought I'd pull this one out of the attic. I wrote this one about 10 years ago. It was the final "paper" for a class on Martin Luther. I was reminded it of it recently when I was watching Luther, the 2003 film starring Joseph Fiennes. I think the love life of Katharina von Bora and Martin Luther would make a fun romantic comedy in the mold of Tracy and Hepburn. Tell me what you think.

Katie & Martin

Dramatis Personae

Conrad - chorus and narrator
Martin - reformer, theologian, monk
Katie - an escaped nun
Koppe - a merchant
Wolf - Koppe's nephew
Jerome - a young scholar
Amsdorf - a professor
Various Nuns and Townspeople

Scene 1

Conrad - This is a tale of love and marriage, made more remarkable because the two people in question are a monk and a nun. The monk is none other than Martin Luther. (gestures toward Martin) At the beginning of our story it has been five years since he posted his famous 95 theses on the eve of All Saints' Day in 1517 and almost a full year since he appeared before the Diet at Worms. (pronounced "vorms" with an "o" as in "gore")

Continue reading "Katie & Martin" »

October 11, 2007

Save the Cheerleader, Save the World

Heroes%20resized.JPGI just finished watching season one of Heroes on DVD. I love the central message of the series... you effect large things by tending to the small things. One would suppose a cheerleader would be insignificant when one is considering possible nuclear catastrophe. I love that this series takes the lives of seemingly disassociated people from all over the world and weaves them together into a very satisfying narrative.

I think the most significant thing they did with this series is how they start every show with an image of planet Earth. That simple image tells much of what they are trying to say. It's about all of us. Nothing happens that doesn't impact something else. An office worker in Japan is connected to a politician in New York is connected to a policeman in California is connected to a cheerleader in Texas is connected to a biologist in India is connected to a webcam stripper in Nevada and so on and so on.

The opening season was very satisfying and brilliantly executed from beginning to end. I'm hopeful they can maintain this level of story telling in seasons to come.

September 29, 2007

Hot Chicks

You are probably aware of Jack Chick, even if you don't know the name. You've probably read at one time or another one of his scores of fundamentalist comic tracts. What I didn't know was that somebody had turned nine of them into a film.

August 4, 2007

The Art of Running to First

littleleaguebaseballbat15_clip_image008.jpgMy son, Simon, just finished a summer of Pee Wee League baseball this week. He improved a lot over the summer and learned the important skill of how to run to first base.

First, you have to unencumber yourself. The first time he ran to first in a game he took the bat most of the way with him before he remembered to discard it. While the bat was essential to set in motion the events that allowed him to run to first, the bat is no longer useful and, in fact, is a detriment for the actual act of running to first.

Second, you have to detach yourself. Once the ball is hit, it's gone. You no longer have any control over it. It's tempting to watch the ball, its trajectory, its journey, whether it's caught or not, but what if it is? You can't do anything about that. you have to detach yourself from it.

Third, focus yourself on the goal. Unencumbered and detached, you now only have one objective. Run to first. That is your only goal. The ball may get there before you, it may not. That doesn't matter. This is no time for distractions or half-hearted effort. Run!

Once you get to first safely then is the time for further evaluation. Are you out? Are you safe? Do you need to run further? Many permutations and possibilities can be considered, but only after you've made it to first.

I've learned a lot from my son this summer.

July 29, 2007

The Gospel for Draco Malfoy

200px-Draco_Malfoy_PoA.jpgFor those of you who haven't yet read the seventh Harry Potter book, some mild spoilers follow.

For those of you who haven't read any Harry Potter books, this will still make some sense. It revolves around Draco Malfoy, a bully and sometimes antagonist to Harry. Draco spends the seven books either bullying the weak with his posse of dim-witted heavies or kissing up to those he estimates are powerful.

In the the Deathly Hallows, the last book in the series, Draco, in spite of his worst intentions and best efforts to reclaim favor with Voldemort (the chief bad guy), is spared his life many times through the actions of others, often at great peril to themselves. He is often oblivious to this or, if he has some inkling of sacrifices that have been made for him, he is ungrateful.

In short, he is a sycophantic, self-centered, power-hungry brat who has an overdeveloped sense of his own entitlement. I shake my head at Draco and wonder if he has any idea what people have sacrificed for him, and yet he shows no gratitude, no remorse.

And, wondering this, I realize that I have more in common with Draco than I'd like to think. Oh, I wouldn't describe myself as a bully, but am I really aware of the sacrifices that have been made for me through the years, directly or indirectly? Am I grateful enough for the happy circumstances that surround my existence? Do I treat those around me according to the grace I have been given?

Some may be disturbed that Malfoy doesn't get more of a comeuppance at the end of Deathly Hallows, that he has received unmerited grace over and over again. And yet we live too in that grace. Over and over again we have received benefits which we do not deserve, forgiveness that we do not merit, sustenance for which we did not toil.

So I end the series with some chagrin, recognizing the Draco within, and vowing to be more grateful, more humble, and more joyful for the life I have.

July 8, 2007

5000 Years of Religion in 90 Seconds

View Full Screen

Related Post: 5000 Years of Middle East History in 90 Seconds

Continue reading "5000 Years of Religion in 90 Seconds" »

June 29, 2007

Dharma the Cat


I found this on-line comic. It comes in an e-book format, but I couldn't get the plug-in to work, so I found it here as well with commentaries from different religious perspectives including Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Humanist, Taoist, Wiccan, and so on.

June 27, 2007

Resistance Is NOT Futile

I was watching a Doctor Who episode entitled Bad Wolf tonight and I loved this exchange:

Dalek: We have your associate. You will obey or she will be exterminated.

The Doctor: No.

Dalek: Explain yourself.

The Doctor: I said "No."

Dalek: What is the meaning of this negative?

The Doctor: It means "No."

Dalek: But she will be destroyed.

The Doctor: No, because this is what I'm going to do, I'm going to rescue her. I'm going to save Rose Tyler from the middle of the Dalek fleet, and then I'm going to save the Earth, and then, just to finish off, I'm going to wipe every last stinking Dalek out of the sky.

Dalek: But you have no weapons, no defenses, no plan.

The Doctor: Yeah, and doesn't that scare you to death?

This is more than just bravado. This sums up for me the essential spirituality of Doctor Who - Resistance Is NOT Futile. In the face of false dichotomies and overwhelming odds there are always choices, and accepting the ones offered to you is often just plain stupid. Life is seldom "either or."

Further, the powers that be will always threaten to take away the things you love if you fail to obey. Don't believe them. They can't take what they can't comprehend.

June 26, 2007

Gravity is just a theory too...

Continue reading "Gravity is just a theory too..." »

June 22, 2007

Five Questions

alb_lars.jpgFuzzy tagged me for this post. I quote:

The purpose of this meme is to get people talking about their passion in life. It’s called the 5/5 meme. Five questions, then pass it to five people. "Expertise" could be your profession, hobby, or area of intense interest.
Name your area of expertise/interest: Well, I considered lots of things that I do and enjoy - roleplaying, improv, writing, on-line gaming - but I decided to tackle the one that defines me to most people most of the time - preaching.

How did you become interested in it?
I think I've always been fascinated by preachers and preaching. There's showmanship and scholarship, ritual and tomfoolery. As a preacher you can be both the sage and the village idiot at the same time. Shaman, priests, monks, and holy people of all stripes have always been of interest to me.

Continue reading "Five Questions" »

June 13, 2007

Resistance is Useless, Daddy!

zogg_14.jpgMy Little Golden Book about ZOGG is a parody of an insipid children's book about God that I actually remember from my childhood.

As I remember it, it was pretty creepy then. The rewrite is even creepier.

Prepare yourself for the "powder scented Final Solution of our enemies from beyond..."

June 3, 2007

Paul Live

paullivemic.jpgAbout 14 years ago some friends and I wrote, produced, and performed a play called "The Reduced Bible - from Genesis to Revelation in 60 minutes or less or your money back." A few years ago I rewrote a few parts of it and made them into self standing one acts. This week I rewrote Paul Live, in which all of the Epistles of Paul are reimagined as a radio call-in show, and it was performed at the church I in which I grew up in Wapakoneta, Ohio. Here's the whole thing for anyone who wants to read it.

It can also be found on

If you want to perform this piece, I remind my gentle readers that everything on this site is under a Creative Commons license.

Continue reading "Paul Live" »

March 15, 2007

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

skydome.jpgHamlet, Act I, Scene 5

Another quote about humility and wonder.

People often ask me what I think about ghosts, UFOs, life after death, ESP, and so on. While I don't really have much direct experience of any of these things, I tend to be open-minded because, hey, what the bleep do I know?

I'm skeptical by nature, but I'm not a total reductionist. I believe there are areas of knowledge still out of our ken. A good skeptic, in my opinion, is also skeptical about the reach of knowledge. We are, after all, finite beings and to believe that we can extrapolate all truth from our limited experience seems the height of arrogance to me.

40 for 40, #35

March 13, 2007

"And also much cattle?"

FarSideCownCar.gifJonah 4:11

This, of course, is the wonderfully odd ending of the book of Jonah in which God questions Jonah as to why he's so peeved that he spared the people of Nineveh.

And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?

And that's the end of the book. No answer.

Which leaves you wondering. Was the question supposed to be rhetorical or were we supposed to answer the question?

It also shows that God, who enlists whales and worms to teach lessons to Jonah, cares deeply not only about human beings, but "also much cattle." In many ways Jonah is a deeply ecological book in which God demonstrates an abiding concern for all of creation.

But, that as it may be, I just like a book that ends with the words, "and also much cattle?"

40 for 40, #33

March 7, 2007

"We do not struggle against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities..."

berriganicon.gifEphesians 6:12

This quote is a two-fold reminder for me. One, that struggle, conflict, contention is not only inevitable, it is part of a spiritual life. As the saying goes, "If you aren't outraged, then you aren't paying attention." Two, that this struggle can never be against people. It isn't personal, no matter how much you want it to be.

The people I call heroes understand both of these things. They understand the only way to defeat an enemy is to make him or her a friend.

40 for 40, #27

February 27, 2007

"If they leave with more questions than when they entered, you're doing something wrong."

hfl09270504.jpgThis is my first example of an "anti-quote" or, in other words, a quote which is antithetical to my way of thinking.

I spoke earlier of the summer of 1992 when I was in a summer drama troupe and the opposition we encountered at the camp.

We would often have dinner as a troupe out at cabins and mix it up with the campers, pastors, and others who were there. One pastor pulled me aside during one of these meals and started to tell me how, while he was opposed to our work as a drama troupe, it was nothing personal because he was opposed to drama troupes in principal at the camp. He told me that our work caused more confussion than clarity among the campers by raising all sorts of issues they probably hadn't considered and if "they leave with more questions than when they entered, you're doing something wrong."

Continue reading ""If they leave with more questions than when they entered, you're doing something wrong."" »

January 31, 2007

Into the Moral Labyrinth
A Theological Review of Pan's Labyrinth


Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno) is a new fairy tale, but it's also from the pre-Disney world of fairy tales. As such it is magical, brutal, gruesome, mysterious, and full of wonder. This movie is honest about its R rating and is definitely not for the faint of heart. It is also one of the best cinematic studies of dealing with violence I have seen in quite some time.

The film is set in 1944 Fascist Spain right after the Spanish Civil War. Ofelia, a young girl, and her pregnant mother go to stay at a military outpost to be with Ofelia's new stepfather and the father of her unborn sibling. Her new stepfather is a Captain charged with hunting down the remaining rebels hiding out in the woods and he does so brutally and without remorse.

Ofelia is entranced by fairy tales which she reads constantly. She finds an ancient labyrinth in the woods near the compound which she visits one night. At the center of the labyrinth she encounters a faun who tells her she is the long-lost daughter of the King of the Underworld and gives her three tasks to prove her royal lineage. These are also a test to make sure that her soul hasn't gone native to this realm and that she is still worthy of her royal title.

[Warning: Major spoilers follow. I completely give away the ending. Read on only if you've seen the film or never intend to do so. You've been warned.]

Continue reading "Into the Moral Labyrinth
A Theological Review of Pan's Labyrinth" »

December 9, 2006

Fate, Life, and Art -
A Theological Review of "Stranger than Fiction"


Harold Crick has a problem. He is aware of his fate.

Well, not entirely, but one morning as he is going through his paces he suddenly hears a disembodied voice narrating his every move and commenting on the mundaneness of his routine. He soon realizes that this voice is narrating a story that will culminate with his ultimate demise... and soon.

He sets out on a desparate odyssey to find this disembodied voice and convince the owner not to finish the story. Along the way he contends with his number obsessed colleagues at the IRS, an anarchist baker who becomes the object of his affection, and a professor of literature who tries to guide him through the narrative of his life.

[Spoiler Alert - Plot spoilers ahead. You've been warned.]

Continue reading "Fate, Life, and Art -
A Theological Review of "Stranger than Fiction"" »

October 6, 2006

Friendly Fascism

mal8st.jpg"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

Any guess who said this?

Continue reading "Friendly Fascism" »

July 14, 2006

Maynard, put away that melted butter, you heathen!

Yea, verily! A pox upon shameless merchants of shellfish! You shall perish in the flames and lemon juice will be poured upon your open wounds!

What to do with the crazed, fanatical, lunatic fringe of Christianity like the Westboro Baptist Church? You can't reason with them. You can't shout them down, that just encourages them. This is why I love satire. That's why is so brilliant. It takes the message of the enemy (and, yes, I think these lunatics are the enemy) and takes it to the absurd conclusions. It won't stop the fanatics, but it will show the absurdity of their argument to onlookers. As a former hoosier, I particularly like the pictures of a God Hates Shrimp (counter) demonstration in Indianapolis last week.

July 11, 2006

Davy Jones and the Fear of Death

priatesrun-5.jpgMichelle Hargrave has an excellent theological review of the new Pirates of the Carribean film on her blog, 33 Names of Grace. I foresee Michelle and me becoming Siskel and Ebert meets Tillich and Küng.

July 2, 2006

Preaching an Inconvenient Truth

Al GoreI had two big takeaways from watching An Inconvenient Truth:

1) Al Gore may be more in love with his Apple laptop than I am with mine. (Note: Al Gore is on the board of Apple.)

2) Al Gore is a very good preacher.

The second point came to me when I was leaving the film and my friend mentioned how good the film was and how she appreciated that Al Gore wasn't "too preachy." And I realized that while he wasn't preachy, he was, in fact, preaching in the best sense. The whole film has a sermonlike quality and structure to it.

Continue reading "Preaching an Inconvenient Truth" »

June 29, 2006

Messianic Superman: Why the World Doesn't Need a Comicbook Savior


I watched the new Superman movie last night and thoroughly enjoyed it as a film, but less so as theology. Before I go there though let me say, go see this film. It's brilliantly conceived and directed by Bryan Singer with a good story and fantastic performances, especially by Kevin Spacey and Parker Posey.

The movie goes boldly into theological turf, and that's where it runs into trouble.

[Warning: Mild spoilers follow.]

Continue reading "Messianic Superman: Why the World Doesn't Need a Comicbook Savior" »

May 17, 2006

My Friend God

I found this today while I was looking for something else. I love it when that happens.

Those who know I'm a pastor might think I'd be offended by this film. You'd be wrong.

Those of you who really know me might think I doubled over in laughter watching this. You'd be right.

This film mocks everything I hate about the triumphalist/fundamentalist branch of Christianity and it brings up some great questions about how the church talks about God. Enjoy!