Sunday, May 28, 2006

observations, album reviews, and modern day parables

Today my pastor (CO) was interviewing kids and asking them what they wanted to be when they grew up. Each of them answered with the typical answers until he arrived at one little girl who couldn’t have been older than five. When asking her the question she leaned into the mic and said, “a teenager”. And I thought, that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up! Guess I’ve arrived.

Jack White commenting on his new band The Raconteurs (pronounced - really weird name), “I’ve been able to do things with this band that I could never do with the White Stripes”. Yeah Jack, that’s what adding a third and fourth instrument will do for a band buddy. Having said that, I’m listening to their new album as I write this and it’s awesome.

Other albums I’ve been listening to lately.

Pearl Jam – Some say this is their best album since Ten. I’d call it their best album since Yield. An album that got little airplay but was a great album.

Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Probably could have shaved this two disc effort down into one long disc but whatever, it’s a good album.

The Fray – Hadn’t heard of this band but it appears that they’ve been on the American charts for a while. I like them. They sound like Maroon 5. Their album sounds like the same song over and over again, but I like the song.

The Kooks – Not sure these guys have made it to the States yet, but they’re a great young band that remind me a lot of The Clash. And, before you think Punk Band, think again. The Clash weren’t punk, they just dressed like they were.

Gnarls Barkley – Also not sure if these guys are in the States yet, but they’re a “band” made up of DJ Danger Mouse and MC/Singer Cee-Lo. I have to say that I’m more impressed with these two guys and their potential than the actual album, but Crazy is a great song that reminds me a lot of Marvin Gaye or Al Green.

Wolfmother – These guys may be the baddest band on the planet with screaming guitars and screaming vocals to match. If you’ve had just about all of the Yellowcard, My Chemical Romance and New Found Glory you can take, and are wondering where all the rock bands have gone, look no further. And if you’re a Led Zeppelin fan, God didn’t answer your prayers, but he has offered you a nice alternative. I have no doubt that Jimmy Page has these guys on his list.

It also needs to be said that Stryper (minus Tim Gaines) has a new album out. That’s right. The boys we turned to when we threw all of our secular albums away (before replacing them all within fifteen months) are back again with a new album and a newer harder version of In God We Trust. Now I know what you’re thinking…Stryper? Yeah, I know. But, like Rocky, I’m going to keep checking them out no matter how old or how many sequels they put out. I’m not ready to review them yet, but what I’ve heard so far (minus the, still, cheesy ballads) has been pleasantly surprising.

And finally, if you’re a part of the Salvation Army, check out the video clip over on the left. I watched a gem of a documentary a couple of weekends ago and lifted this possible modern day parable from it. Be offended if you will, but this was (literally) my first impression of the Army upon walking onto one of their camps and being introduced to the guy in charge. At first I just thought he was ex-military and a bit eccentric and still liked being called by his rank. Upon finding out that all ministers in the Army had a rank I immediately wondered if anybody could just make up a rank and tell people to call them by that. I spent the rest of the summer trying to figure out how I could get people to refer to me as Admiral Miller. For whatever reason, the video and audio don’t align when you watch it on this blog, so I apologize ahead of time.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Adam's hymn

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

So I’ve been reading the creation story and some of the theories and long held beliefs surrounding it. One is that the creation hymn (the first chapter of Genesis) may have actually been a hymn, taught by God to Adam, and handed down through several generations until it finally got to Moses who wrote it down. Can you imagine that? The idea that we might have a hymn that literally came from Adam himself. Adam! Wow.

I’m a history and archaeology geek. As far as history goes, I’m specifically interested in the history of Rock ‘n’ Roll and how it has both captured western history since the 50’s, and influenced western history and culture since the 50’s. As far as archaeology goes, I can’t really see how there’s any that isn’t Biblically related in one way or another. And all of it fascinates me. The minute a story is published about another group who thinks they may have discovered Noah’s ark up on Mt. Ararat, I’m on it. And the British Museum happens to be packed out with unlisted Biblical archaeology…that the British lovingly stole from all parts of the world. God bless the “finders keepers” rule!

So with all of that in mind, I have to confess, I find the Da Vinci Code story fascinating. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of holes in the story and, ultimately, it has very little credibility, if any at all. But still, I’m a big enough geek about it all that I find myself wishing Jesus had left a blood line that was living among us today. And I also wouldn’t have a problem with that, btw. I mean, I understand why the Catholics hate the idea (because they’re even more prude than we Protestants are), but I can’t figure out why that would threaten our faith?

Anyway, I’m getting a bit side tracked here.

I wonder if there are any others out there who are blown away by the thought of Adam’s hymn? I wonder if there are any others out there who can stand in a place like Stonehenge and almost hear the voices (not to wax too Dead Poets here) of the people who once travelled there, seeking God? Or even somebody who can stand in an old abandoned house and consider the lives that it represents?

We are surrounded by the history of mankind. It has left its mark all around us. Your home may sit on a site once inhabited by ancient people. And, depending on your beliefs about the creation week, the story of mankind, and our fellowship with God, may date back millions of years. I’m not threatened by that. In fact, the idea that God has been moulding and shaping his creation for billions of years only puts me at greater awe of God. It means that I’m an even smaller speck than I first thought. Imagine the people who once roamed the land where you now live. Unbelievable. And, during all that time, whether it be thousands of years or millions of years, God has been communing with us.

The hymn that God taught to Adam. Unbelievable.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

a new kind of 5

A Reason To Be Encouraged

On Joel’s blog today, he re-asks the question that many of us have asked, several times over, on our own blogs. What does it mean to do/be church? Can you do/be church without attending a specific program in a specific building?

I think many of us are discouraged when it comes to church. Ben recently wrote…

“I want to look upon God with fresh eyes and recapture the wonder that I missed out on because church, the institution, got to me before Jesus did.”

That’s a very telling statement and I think a lot of people share it. Including me.

Many of us refer to “the New Testament church” when trying to describe the kind of church we want to be a part of. We use words like community to describe a church that’s made up of supportive relationships rather than methodical programming. We use words like journey to describe a church that’s experiencing life together rather than just learning theology. And we use words like “a life of worship” to describe the type of people we want to be as opposed to a day of worship which sounds more like a scheduled act than a life of surrender.

And that is exactly why we have reason to be encouraged.

Look around! Click on the links in my right hand column, and then click on the links in their right hand columns! You and I aren’t the only ones asking these questions. Lots of people are asking them. And as I read these blogs ,and the conversations that follow them, I’m beginning to understand that a shift is taking place in the church. As we look around for a different kind of church, and as we change our thoughts on what church is, we will inevitably become a different kind of church. And it’s happening in small growing pockets all over the world.

Don’t get me wrong. We have a looooong way to go. We still spend more time talking about a life of worship than we do actually living one out. And certainly those with the most power in the church aren’t looking to give up that power. But change it will. And change it is.

So be encouraged. Keep asking the questions. And, most importantly, commit to being a different kind of church rather than just wishing for one.

new blog description

Haha. Have you ever noticed that we get awfully poetic when it comes to our blogs, and especially their descriptions? I know some of you guys! And some of you guys aren’t all that poetic in real life!

I’ve been reading through blog descriptions and have taken a bit here, and a bit there, to come up with one big description for my blog.

The casual, random, rambling, collective thoughts, wafflings, rants, reflections, meandering musings, intentional encounters, and interactions between a living God and a primitive urban missionary who is embedded in the trenches. So grab a latte and sit back as I consider life’s questions, and the journey!

Sounds perfect.

Btw, though he totally ripped off my idea, I'm going to give Ben the link because he's got a great poem posted from a guy who calls himself the Penniless Poet. The guy is homeless and hangs out at their church during the week. He gave the pastor of the church a "book" of poetry that he had written. Most of it is on homelessness and it is amazing. I highly recommend checking it out.

Btw, I spent this past weekend checking out several great albums, including Pearl Jam, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Kooks, and Gnarls Barkley. What I wasn't able to find was a good Christian album. I'm up to speed on Charley Hall, David Crowder, and Chris Tomlin. Anybody have any other recommendations?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

a sunday in north london

I walked into church this morning to find one of our elderly gentlemen, sitting outside, and sharing his testimony with another gentleman who had stopped by looking for someone to talk to. There’s something about hearing the testimony of somebody who’s been at it for as long as this man has.

Two guys at a bus stop discussing women. It was the age old discussion. And I quote…”They don’t look that way to NOT get noticed! They do it for a reason bruv.”

Fifteen 11-14 year olds debating whether or not you could lose your salvation. No great arguments were made on either side. Sadly it wasn’t any less intelligent than most of the debates I’ve heard on this topic.

An old lady giving a café owner an ear full. It seems that he wanted to open the door because some people were smoking. It seems that she found that extremely rude and wasn’t going to pay for her meal! She had back problems! They had a right to smoke! It was fun to watch. In the end another old lady in the café tolled her that she as “an old grog” and the café owner escorted her out the door, minus the money for her meal.

Two guys each carrying a guitar on their backs and one had an additional mandolin. I turned to our youth pastor and said, “They have to be either Irish or American. We’re the only ones who play mandolins.” She told me I was crazy. I ran after them and asked. They were Irish. Never question me. Never ever question me.

I was asked to “teach a group of 11-14 year olds how to make Mexican food”. I took the easy route and made tacos. You should have seen this group of (mostly) Jamaican/British kids eating their first tacos. Quite a few of them loaded up their plates with meat, salad, cheese, and (separately) taco shells. They then ate each ingredient on it’s own, including the taco shells which they ate like tortilla chips (crisps). One or two of them made the connection with the shape of the taco shell and actually put the ingredients in the shell. They then went on to hold them and eat them like a sandwich. Evidently the head tilt thing is a learned behaviour.

A guy trying to get on the bus with the biggest dog you’ve ever seen. He promised that it wasn’t an aggressive dog. They never are. I wanted to shoot his big dog. WE HATE YOUR BIG DOGS!

Btw, this picture wasn't taken in North London. It's on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

new writers

I’d like to welcome three new writers to my right hand column.

Sean Savage for today’s post on passion. He wrote…
“I find that when my passion fades, when the thing I know God wants me to do is boring, I have surpassed the point when I was supposed to take a break.”

Thank you so much for that one Sean. You were speaking directly to me.

I’d also like to welcome Kirstin Ivany for her post on babysitting for strippers. It inspired and encouraged me.

And finally I’d like to welcome Joel Ivany, Kirstin’s brother. I don’t know why I’ve added Joel. He mostly writes about working at Starbucks and liking opera, but he manages to compare each of these things to his Christian walk, and I’m enjoying the journey.

Unfortunately, after several warnings and even a threat or two, I’ve had to delete somebody from my right hand column. That’s right Mel, you’re gone! Your last post was in MARCH! Get it together and we’ll talk about putting you back!

Was that me who wrote about grace a few posts back? : )

I was sitting outside, having lunch this past weekend, when the above kid walked by with the above t-shirt. I think it speaks volumes of the world's take on Christianity. We have to change this.

God in a box II

I stumbled onto a book, not long ago, called Jesus in a Nutshell. I found it online, and I suppose it was a joke, but it kept me thinking for a while. Why is it that thinking we’ve got God all figured out isn’t seen as extremely arrogant?

When I was a kid I went to a pretty traditional church in the heart of the Bible belt. We did church one way because we believed that that’s how God wanted it done. We believed that we had it all figured out and that even those church’s down the road who were similar to us were, at best, just a little bit wrong. A few tweaks here and there, and they would be more like us and, therefore, a lot closer to God.

As a kid I would always hear adults say that the older they got, the less they knew. I feel that way about God. Not that I know Him less, but that I’ve got less of Him figured out. I wish I could remember that though, because I often find myself ranting at groups of Christians insisting that God does not belong in their box…because He clearly belongs in mine.

I come from the generation of worshippers. You know what I’m talking about. The generation who came along in the 90’s and “brought worship back to the church”. Ugh. We really believed that. Don’t get me wrong. I think, in a lot of ways, that my generation probably did help to refocus many churches on worship, but I also think that we weren’t any different than the generations that went before us. After all, in the end we also felt that if you didn’t do church our way, you weren’t doing it right. In fact, many of us wrongfully assumed that, until our generation came along, the church really hadn’t been worshipping, at least not for a while.

Nobody knew Jesus better than John did, and yet, when Jesus appeared to him in Revelations 1, John fell on his face as if dead. Vulnerable disciples never reach a point where they “know it”, yet here we are, typing like we do.

As I shared in my last post, I spent this past weekend in Edinburgh. It was my second visit to the city, and I got to visit one of my favourite spots on the planet while I was there. The above picture was taken inside a small chapel that is part of Edinburgh’s castle. The chapel is about 900 years old and is the oldest building in all of Edinburgh. King David II (not that King David) built it in honor of his mother Margaret, who would go on to be St. Margaret. The chapel is extremely small, only fitting 20 people, but it’s amazing. I’d love to have one of these in my back yard.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


My friend Shaun Spencer and I agree on very little. But the following list is the top five things that we do agree on.

The Oklahoma Sooners are the greatest college football team ever known to man.

Shaun cradle robbed when he married his wife Danielle.

It was worth it because she is a babe and it gave him his only chance of not passing the ugly gene onto his offspring (Though his sister is an absolute babe too. Come to think of it, what happened to you Shaun?)

If I weren’t such an undisciplined guitarist, Shaun and I would have surely been the 90’s equivalent of Simon & Garfunkel. No question.

And the number one thing we agree on is that Barry Manilow is one of the most underrated song writers of all time. Yeah, he’s still rocking a Mullet. And yeah, he also wrote Copa Cabana. But the guy is the absolute KING of sad songs. Listen to Trying to Get that Feeling Again and tell me you don’t want to blow your brains out. That’s the true measure of a sad song!

And so I dedicate the song in the right hand column to Shaun Spencer. Yeah, he’s spent a few too many years in the Nazarene church, (Or is it the Presbyterian church? I can never remember. Kind of like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.), and he attempts to look intellectual by quoting Francis Schaeffer and smoking a pipe, but he’s a pretty decent chap. So Shaun, this one’s for you.

A few more life observations.

Why do people with big dogs think that everybody else likes their big dog and doesn’t mind getting slimed and/or jumped on by their big dog? Whenever that happens, all I can think is that I would like to shoot your big dog. I think the world would be a better place without big dogs. And cats. (And before all you cat lovers chime in, go sort out that litter box and cat hair on your couch. Then we can sit down and talk about it.)

How long is the saggy trouser fad going to be with us? Seriously. Most fads last, what, two or three years? This one’s been with us since the early 90’s. That’s fifteen years! C’mon! End already!

The following is a review I recently read on iTunes. U2
“WHY! Why would you spend so much money for something so bad?? All of their songs sound the same! Echoing guitars over and over again. Original of the species?? Howbout original of the crap. Ooo I’m bono and I wear big glasses cus I’m cool!! Vertigo? Vertigo home U2…you fail as a band and at life.”

k.d. lang has a new album out with a great new title. Reintarnation. : ) Nice.

We spent the weekend in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was a quiet weekend in a quiet apartment. At one point I found myself sitting beside a lamp post, literally watching people walk by. No headphones, no book, just watching. And I realized just how little of my life is silent. I never set aside time for silence. Even now, it’s 1:05 a.m. and a car alarm has been going off outside for well over twenty minutes. Still, it’s easy to blame my lack of silence on the world around me rather than my own commitment at setting aside time for silence. I need to do that more often.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

the franchising of the church

I wish it were as easy as 1, 2, 3. A friend recently wrote on his blog that sometimes it might be easier if his job entailed just one thing. Like a truck that paints lines on the highway. I don’t wish for that. I know it would bore me to tears. And I like the challenge of pioneering something new. But sometimes a little help would be nice.

I learned today that one of our churches here in London is credited for helping to pioneer detached youth ministry, that it’s ministry had far reaching results and even that Paul Simon wrote “Sound of Silence” while attending this youth project as a young man. I’m still trying to iron out all of the details, and get a fuller picture of the story, but still, what I know is enough to make me add this story to the ever growing list of stories that fall under the heading of, “What in the world went wrong?”

How did we lose our edge?

Did we become complacent? Did we franchise this church out to people who had no business running their own business? Did we fall out of favour? Did we become too arrogant? Did we lose sight of our original mission, becoming therefore, irrelevant?

Did you ever visit a chain restaurant that had been franchised out by somebody who, you could just tell, didn’t quite get the spirit of the chain?

The world doesn’t need the church any less. And there are certainly churches out there that are growing by leaps and bounds (though, to be fair, very few of those, if any, are mainline denominations), so blaming it on changes in society seems like poor form. So what is it? Lack of good leadership? Lack of humility? Have we taken an extremely relevant message, faith, and mission, and somehow made it irrelevant?

I was in Amsterdam a few weeks ago meeting up with some fellow youth workers there. As we were driving through one of the poorest neighbourhoods there, my chafer explained to me that the Army church in this area was shutting down, that it was no longer relevant there. And before I could stop the words from coming out of my mouth, I said, “how can the Salvation Army be irrelevant in a poor community?”

But that question poses a much wider question. How can the Salvation Army be irrelevant in a world that is dying to see faith backed up by action? A world that is seeing more and more people get involved with social action issues? And a world that is seeing a measurable rise of interest in spiritual pursuits? How can the Army be irrelevant in that world?

Could it be that the one thing we base our success on, Sunday morning attendance, is the one thing we do that is the most irrelevant? I’m thinking as I type here.

My wife and I were given an Army church (corps) building about a year and a half ago. Up until that time, though the building was located in a poor community, it hosted no programmes to help meet any of the community’s needs, except a Sunday service, and that service was extremely poorly attended. The Army was shutting this church down, so my wife and I offered to take the building and see what we could do with it. A year and a half later and the building is full every time we open the doors. Right now that’s three days a week. We hope to make it five in September. And, even as we search desperately for the staff we need to open the building up more often, people in the community are asking for more. And I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no excuse for the Salvation Army becoming irrelevant in a community like this one. Except one. We have a singular definition of what church is. Church is the Sunday morning gig.

I don’t share that to gloat. Fact is, my time is spread way too thin and somebody with more time than me could have that building packed out, seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. And I really struggle with that. I struggle with the fact that this community is being short changed by a guy who has his hand in way too many cookie jars. But I’ve also proven what I’ve always believed to be true. Reaching people is not the hard part. The hard part is taking those, already involved, to a place where they can reach people. Changing their concept of what it means to be a Christian, and be the church. And, maybe even harder, changing our own concept of what it means to be a Christian and be the church.

Even as I type that, I realize that I too don’t really understand what that means. But I’m beginning to get a clearer picture. I’m beginning to see, more and more, what it might look like to be a relevant Christian, and a relevant church, with the same message and same theme we’ve had for two thousand years. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and love your neighbour as yourself.