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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

I love the movie Chef (2014). It tells the story of chef Carl Casper, a workaholic who must re-invent himself after he has a public meltdown over a bad review. Carl is not a likeable character at the start. He’s incredibly flawed. His poor communication skills have led to a strained relationship with his son and likely the reason for his divorce. Those flaws get amplified in the events leading to his meltdown. We don’t like him and I’m not sure we’re supposed to. But we see that his friends like him and his staff respects him, so he can’t be all bad. That’s enough for us to root for his redemption, even as we’re not sure why he deserves it.

 

Ultimately, I think this movie is about communication. How do we communicate what’s important to us? How do we communicate with who is important to us?

 

Carl’s communication at the beginning of the movie is terrible. He ducks his son and backs out of promises to spend time. Even when he’s physically with him, his mind often seems elsewhere. While we don’t know for certain, it feels likely that this same distance led to his divorce. Communication at work is not much better. Carl has a good relationship with his staff, but has clear miscommunication with his boss, which eventually leads Carl getting fired.

 

It’s not until midway through the movie that we finally see a turn. In this fantastically weird scene Carl’s ex-wife’s ex-husband (played wonderfully by Robert Downey Jr) talks circles around Carl and no one, neither Carl nor the audience, ever seems to truly understand where the conversation is going. Perhaps at this point Carl finally starts to realize what poor communication feels like from the other side. His bewilderment, and ours, is almost palpable. From that moment on, his communication improves. Whether it’s from this experience or simply the change in scenery, Carl starts to communicate more clearly and transform into a character we can root for.

 

I love how Chef illustrates technology throughout the movie. We see little animated blue birds flying off into the air whenever tweets are sent and shared. A cute reminder that once the message is out there, it takes on a life of its own. The use of Twitter throughout the movie helps drive home how fraught our communication has become with the growth of technology. Without visual or aural cues, or even space to formulate full thoughts, it’s become increasingly easy to misunderstand people or misrepresent oneself.

 

That’s not to say that Twitter is all bad. Carl’s son Percy uses it within the food truck business to help Carl reinvent himself. Percy’s engagement with the tool is the most mature, ironic as he is the youngest cast member by far. However through Percy we see how technology can be used to foster communication between people. His “one second video” experiment finally helps Carl see in a fresh way the value of their relationship and leads to a new avenue of communication between them.

 

Follow Carl’s journey we’re left at the end to ponder if our own use of technology is helping or hindering our communication. Are we paying attention or missing out on relationships right in front of us? Are we connecting deeper or staying at a surface level? Are we using the tool or is the tool using us?

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Abundance of Grace

 

We celebrated communion a couple Sundays back. During the Great Thanksgiving, as I lifted the bread, my daughter immediately started signing for “more” and “eat.” It was all I could do to keep from laughing! She may not have known everything that was happening in worship, but she knew Daddy had food and she wanted some!

She doesn’t know the words of institution. She can’t tell you the theological mystery of the bread and cup being the body and blood. But she knows someone who loves her is offering something worth having.

Sometimes I need reminding. God’s invitation is big enough for everyone. God’s grace is abundant for everyone. There’s more than enough for everyone.

And I don’t have to say all the right words or even know them. I don’t have to understand how everything fits together. All I have to know is that someone who loves me is offering something worth having. I can come to the table and receive.

 

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This week I went hunting for the first time. (Technically we’re actually out of season for hunting raccoons, so we only ran the dogs, but I’m still counting it). I was surprised how much technology we used. We had special lights with two settings: one for walking and one for looking up into the trees. The dogs were fitted with tracking collars that link to a smartphone app so we knew which direction they were and how far away. The app even changes when the dog has treed a raccoon!

 

However, even with the all technology, some things don’t change. Several times we turned off our lights and let the dogs chase the scent. Standing there in the woods, looking up at the stars and listening to the barks, I felt as though I could have been standing there two hundred years ago.

 

We stood at the intersection of the old and the new. The technology changed what we could do, making it easier to move through the woods and find the dogs. The app helped me better understand what the more seasoned hunters knew instinctively from the pitch and rhythm of the barks. But at the end of the night, we’re doing the same thing hunters have done for generations: trusting the dogs. They smell, chase, bark and (if you’re lucky) tree. What happens in the woods is entirely up to them. Technology changes what we can do, but when you get down to the basics, it’s the same as it’s always been.

 

As a pastor, I can’t help see a connection to church. We use a lot of new things in church: microphones, screens, instruments (even organs were new at one point!). However, when you get down to the very basics, church hasn’t changed. We’re still the gathered community, praising God, hearing the Word, and then sent out into the world to live our faith. Technology changes how we share our message, but the message is what it’s always been.

 

What’s something in your life that’s a mix of old and new? Something that looks different today but at its heart is the same? Where have you stood at that intersection?

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I watched Apple’s Keynote address this afternoon. I’ll admit, partly because I wanted to geek out over the new tech, but also because I wanted to see how Apple presented their new stuff. In my opinion, Apple is better than any other company at generating excitement around their products. Plus their products have come to define this current generation. Even if you don’t use Apple products, I bet you use something designed to compete with Apple.

Apple has built a business around convincing people that their products will make their lives better. You can’t do that without exceptional communication. Simply put, when it comes to communication, Apple connects with people. So anyone interested in communicating effectively should pay attention to what Apple is doing.

Here are some things I noticed.

Repetition: Tim Cook had a phrase for each tech that he repeated multiple times. “The iPhone 6 and 6+ are best iPhones we’ve ever made.” “The Apple Watch is most personal and intimate tech we’ve ever made.” “Apple Pay is fast, easy, and secure.” Each time he spoke, he came back to this simple idea. He didn’t want you to leave without hearing and remembering that idea. If you took away nothing else, you were taking away those key ideas.

Multiple speakers: Tim Cook did not dominate the stage. This one surprised me. I assumed that as the CEO he would be the guy. Cook did talk about each of the reveals, but he also invited others on stage to share more, either in person or through video clips. He let those most familiar with the products share the details. This was not a one-man show.

Presentation of Information: Apple was always willing to share the technical specs of the devices. We heard about screen sizes and battery life. We got in-depth looks at camera lenses. But you didn’t have to be an engineer to follow the talks, because after going through the specs, the presenters told you why they mattered. They never got too stuck in megapixels or beveled edges because they could always say “here is what this means for you.”

Length: As someone who talks for a living, I was very curious to see how long the presentations were. I’ve heard a lot about how technology is reducing our collective attention spans and so the days of 20 minute (or longer) sermons are gone because people can’t pay attention. And, sure enough, no one talked for 20 minutes uninterrupted. There were plenty of video clips to keep these moving plus the aforementioned string of speakers. However, the keynote event lasted 2 hours with minimal audience participation and the audience was clearly engaged throughout. So that leaves the question unanswered I think. Certainly technology has changed how we engage information but as to whether it has changed our attention span, I’m less sure. 

So that’s what I noticed from the Keynote. What stood out to you?

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I watched last night’s debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham on whether creationism is a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era. Now I’m not a scientist but as a layperson I found Bill Nye’s comments much more compelling. Bill Nye shared different tests and observations from the scientific community. Ken Ham tried to poke holes in them and mentioned several colleagues who agree with him but I never heard a scientific argument for his creationism model. But like I said, I’m not a scientist so this isn’t a science post. 

Instead there were a couple of statements about Christianity and faith that I found interesting. During the Q&A session, Ken Ham was asked if he takes everything in the Bible literally. As I best I could tell, he made an argument for genres in the Bible, that different sections are meant to be read in different ways. For example, you wouldn’t read a historical account the same way you read poetry. I agree with Ken Ham on this point. I think the Bible contains several different genres of writing and we enrich our reading of Scripture when we engage them. Where we disagree is on the genre of Genesis. Ken Ham clearly reads Genesis as an historical account, while I read it more as poetry. I read Genesis not to answer the “How” or “When” questions of the world, but the “Who” and “Why” questions. These are the questions that Genesis answers for me. Who am I? A beloved child of God. Why am I here? To know God, to love God and my neighbor, and to care for God’s creation. (I really wanted someone to ask a follow-up question to Ken Ham about how he decided to place Genesis in the historical genre. However, as Bill Nye rightly admitted that he is not a theologian several times, I wouldn’t expect him to raise that kind of question.)

A few times in the debate Bill Nye referenced the many people of faith around the world who accept evolution and their faith together. I applauded him for that. While Bill Nye is not a person of faith, he did not say I had to pick science over faith. He accepted opinions outside of his own worldview. Ken Ham, on the other hand, made it clear that people of faith who disagree with his reading of Scripture are wrong on matters of their faith. Stepping away from the questions of evolution and creationism, Ken Ham also believes his reading is the only one that can be right and therefore any other theology is wrong. That stunned me. An agnostic (as Bill Nye defines himself) is more accepting of my faith than another Christian.

Ken Ham’s assertion reflects my biggest concern in this debate. In science, and in life, we are presented with questions and ideas that we decide to accept or reject. Scientists questioned the prevailing truths of the day to discover the earth is round and the sun is at the center of our solar system. However, Ken Ham’s worldview doesn’t allow for questions. There’s only one right way and that’s his way. I don’t see how that can be healthy for the spheres of science or theology.

Did you watch the debate? What did you think?

(The United Methodist Church responds to the question of the intersection of faith and technology here)

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If you live in North Carolina, you may have heard Steven Furtick’s name in the news recently. Rev Furtick is the pastor of Elevation Church, a growing mega-church in the Charlotte area. Turns out, he’s building a house. Normally this wouldn’t be big news; people build houses all the time. But this house is pretty big. It’s probably pretty average for Charlotte suburb standards (I’m not a realtor nor do I know anything about real estate) but people get a bit antsy when a pastor builds a big house. Because pastors aren’t supposed to be in it for the money.

People are getting even more antsy because there are questions about the finances for the house. Not everything seems to add up right; boundaries may have been crossed. There appears to be a lack of accountability and neither the church nor Steven Furtick are saying much.

The story has been shared all over social media, especially among pastors. I found myself wanting to post as well. No, I don’t think this story reflects the kind of life Christians are called to live. Yes, I agree that this reflects poorly on clergy. And yes, I too am glad that I serve in a denomination with levels of accountability to prevent such problems.

And you know, it felt really good to point a finger at a pastor doing wrong. “Look at that pastor over there! Look at them handling money improperly! Look, look, look! Thank God I’m not like that pastor.”

Then I remembered the Gospel passage for this Sunday: Luke 18:9-14.T he parable of a Pharisee and a tax collector praying in the temple. And what does Jesus say? “for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 8:14)

And I remembered that while I may not look wealthy compared to some in America, I’m doing just fine. And compared to many, I’m living large.

So to Rev. Furtick and the leaders of Elevation Church, do consider the effect your building project is having on others. I’d appreciate avoiding another painful reminder of my own pride.

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The language is Paul’s epistles about wives submitting to their husbands has been much debated over time. I’m not here to rehash that debate but to show a small slice of what it looks like in my home.

I’m a pastor. So is my wife Kathy. Thus our relationship to submission has a lot of dimensions.

We’ve submitted to Christ in our vocation. We’ve agreed to serve God and the world through this beautiful and heavy calling as those who stand in the gap between the world and the divine.

We’ve submitted to the church. As United Methodist pastors, we are appointed to our churches. Unlike other denominations where the local church “calls” their pastor to come, we are sent. So while we get some input, we know that at times we’ll be moved at times when we would prefer to stay, when the church would prefer us to stay.

We’ve submitted to one another. To support one another at home and in ministry, it’s a necessity. We each have crazy days and slow days. When one of us has a full day of meetings or a difficult pastoral care visit, then the other steps up around the house with meals or chores.

At some point, I am certain that Kathy will have a great opportunity to move appointments into a setting that fits her gifts. And unless the Holy Spirit is very sneaky, it will probably involved me changing my appointment. Which I will do, without hesitation or complaint. Because who am I to stand in the way of her calling? Who am I to stand in the way of her flourishing? And so part of my submitting will be supporting her in that, regardless of what it means for me.

That is what I committed to in my vows. That is our covenant to one another. That is what it means for us to hold God at the center of our marriage.

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