Monday, March 6, 2017

"Get Out" Won't Get Out of My Mind

Sometimes I enjoy movies in the moment.

However, the truly good movies are the ones I continue to ponder days, weeks, and months after I see them. Moonlight has been like that. I continue to think about how artfully the struggles of coming of age were told. While I enjoyed Hidden Figures in the moment, I have not thought about it much since. After I saw Loving, I found an archive of Life magazine that told the story of the Lovings, an interracial couple from 1966 Virginia in the film. I was reminded about how important photography can be as a storytelling medium, not merely a blip of memory. My wife and I saw The Lobster last summer, and we still talk about how wonderfully bizarre and socially astute it was.

I cannot imagine that the recent release "Get Out" will hang on until the next round of award nominations 8 months later. But this movie matters, and I will cheer if this film is able to hang on until next year's awards. I'm not much for the horror genre, but this story is perfectly tense and adequately repulsive with a good suspension of disbelief. Jordan Peele offers surgically-placed comic relief and does not betray his comedy roots. But all of these things are the mediators for Peele's framing of racial and societal issues that brought to mind Fahrenheit 451.

As a recent guest on the comedic news quiz show "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me," Host Peter Sagal posed a hypothetical question of white response to the Peele's film, "O God, do I say those things?"

Peele replied not-so-tongue-in-cheek, "The answer is yes. Yes, you do."

I believe I have avoided spoilers here. I write today because I continue to have discussions with a congregation member about this film 4 days later. Get Out has become part of my continuing quest to hear, read, watch, and tell a good story.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Meeting Diverse Adult Learners (Part 1?)

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

At every church I've ever served, I have taught classes covering the Bible, spirituality, several of the social sciences, theology, vocation, stewardship, and even current events. In 18+ years of ordained ministry, in many ways I have enjoyed these opportunities more than leading worship. Maybe it is because I have not crossed the worship space barrier of impromptu communication between leader and congregation. I'm not that edgy. I like trying new things. But I can't have EVERYTHING be new. Newness abounds for me in the congregation I serve. Not revolutionary, necessarily, but it is new to me.

I do not teach classes in my life as a pastor in a church anymore. While I enjoy the preparation, I had too many classes where either one or two people attended, or none at all. Regardless of my principles of the nobility of the subject matter, I could not justify investing so much time in my own interests, let alone in when I discovered in what others have interest. This does not seem to bother the leaders of the congregation. Some of my older members lament that many do not show up to classes. For other leaders, they did not think I should take offense, but rather the tradition (probably not that long of one) of the church offering programmatic classes was not something that people were looking for in a church.

The relationship between church and teaching has always existed, but how should it exist? I have spent much time and reflection on why classes don't seem to work at my congregation. I have a few theories and circumstances to share. My job does not hang on carrying these things out, but it does matter that exploration continues in maintaining personal integrity.

  • I have several career military families in the congregation. In speaking with military chaplains, congregational life is not necessarily a priority for the U.S. military. Occasionally it happens, but it is not because of any particular sense of mission. Therefore congregational life in a broad sense is not reinforced by my military-oriented households.
  • People invest less time in community endeavors (think Robert Putnam's "Bowling Alone"). When the budget of time is trimmed, sometimes it's congregational life that sees the cut.
  • I have many people in the congregation who live on significantly different levels on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Sometimes classes in congregational life are more about self-actualization than the personal/household safety concerns that many people I know have. I have been lectured by some people not in my congregation that people need the word of God as much as they need bread. Regardless of whether that is true, I am not going to manipulate people with forcing them to take a Bible class in order to get fed. I know ministries that do this, and I refuse to work like that.
  • My congregation is the most diverse I have ever served. We have many first generation immigrants. We have people who live in poverty. We have people who live here a short time because of military itinerancy. I also have people with multiple years of graduate education. The biggest category of people is empty nesters. They are invested in the life of the church, but they are often gone. It is challenging to gather such a diverse group of adult learners. 

What I have realized is that I never really had these challenges in the demographically similar congregations I served in the first 12-13 years of ministry. I am glad to have these challenges.

I am thankful for anyone who shares their own experiences in an evolving church related to adult learning, or could point me to particular resources that could be helpful. On top of all of this, I am part-time. I have to be strategic about where I invest my time. I am not afraid to fail, or let go of something that is not working, but I also can't operate like the Parable of the Sower and throw seed around haphazardly.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Franklin Gets Raw Deal, Yet Rises Above, with an Assist from Grandma

#HappyHallowThanksmas Charlie Brown Power Rankings for November 27, 2016

Franklin Armstrong has a smaller role among the Peanuts characters, and maybe we're getting a little insight into this during the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special. Is it part of the pastiche of subtle institutional racism? A few things show up in this show related to Franklin, summed up in this screen shot:


Charlie Brown has a hard time watching what has happened to Franklin. Armstrong is the only one sitting on one side of the table, and he gets the bad chair (is it the infamous mutant dog eating chair?). Raw deal. Not to mention Linus gets smug about American gratitude and gives far too much glory to Myles Standish. Charlie Brown makes the best of things, fending off the holiday stress of Linus, Peppermint Patty, Sally, and he can't seem to speak up about Franklin. Maybe this is all about growing up and trying to manage gratitude with the baggage we all carry--historical, familial, personal, and friendship. Maybe prayer was in order, even if that one was rooted in imperialism.

Lost in the midst of this challenging (though sometimes poorly executed story) is probably the most underrated (if not the best), soundtrack of the HappyHallowThanksmas trilogy. If you haven't paid close attention, ignore the story and check out the songs.

On a side note--the election has weighed on my mind this November, and what was good intent on CharlieBrownThanksgiving regular analysis has turned into a solo effort at the end of Thanksgiving weekend. We shall see what Christmas brings. But...Thanksgiving brings a significant Power Ranking shakeup.

1. Vince Guaraldi  (Last Poll: 2)
Charlie's Blues, Little Birdie, Thanksgiving Theme. Great tunes to jazz your November. It's sad when they're put away at the end of the month.

2. Franklin Armstrong (Last Poll: Not Rated)
Personifies grace under pressure, in damn cool trousers.

3. Charlie Brown's Grandma (Last Poll: NR)
Just come to dinner. We'll make it better, anyone can come.

4. The Brown Family Roadster (Last Poll: NR)
The rear-facing classic social mobile. Are these not manufactured anymore because they're deathtraps?



5. Woodstock (Last Poll: NR)
This bird a great partner to Snoopy in the midst of hoarders and furniture attacks. Woodstock gets rewarded with a nice Thanksgiving dinner and a dedicated Guaraldi tune. But... is Woodstock a cannibal? Discuss...

Also receiving votes: Marcie Carlin (peace maker? doormat?), Mutant MMA Lawn Chair, Snoopy, Charlie Brown, vintage toasters, Over the River and through the Woods song surviving the butcher job by the Peanuts kids.

Dropped from the rankings: Sally Brown (poor performance), Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Schroeder.

May you have all had a blessed Thanksgiving.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Ch-ch-ch-changes...who transforms in #GreatPumpkinCharlieBrown?

One of my collegiate writing teachers in fiction, Roger Sheffer, reminded his students that someone in the piece needs to change in plot development, or it's not really a story. Without change, the piece is  a snapshot or a vignette. Does anyone in #GreatPumpkinCharlieBrown change? Many would think the story is about Linus Van Pelt and his belief system of The Great Pumpkin. Does Linus change? Linus actually spews much dogma:

1. Each year The Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch...
2. I thought little girls were innocent and trusting...
3. [The Great Pumpkin] respects sincerity...

Linus eschews relationships to proclaim his dogma. He does not really want relationships, he wants people to affirm and/or follow his belief system.

Sally Brown is love-seeking, judicially aware, vulnerable, passionately principled, open about her regrets, takes ownership of her folly, and appears willing to learn. Sally Brown is a changed young woman, and will be no caricature of a smitten girl, overcoming early indicators.

Sally Brown is more than a patriarchy smasher. Sally demands more of love than cuteness, intelligence, or even sincerity. Sally wants to be heard.

The Peanuts #HappyHallowThanksmas Power Rankings for October 31, 2016:

1. Sally Brown (last ranking, #4; trending up)

Sally Brown wants empathy, Linus won't give it. She has the strength to turn her back and begin to claim her own identity.

2. Vince Guaraldi (last ranking, #2; trending even)

Mr. Guaraldi, you died too soon. Heartbreaking.

3. Charlie Brown (last ranking, NR; trending up)

The World War I lessons are overlooked; Charlie Brown delivers lessons without pretension. Can you imagine what these lessons would sound like if Linus or Lucy delivered them? Unbearable! 

4. Snoopy (last ranking, #1; trending down)

Still the class canine of animation. But when does he make mistakes? What is he hiding?

5. Schroeder (last ranking, NR; trending up)

A small part in this show, but shows his ability as an accompanist, helping Snoopy process his military experience.

Dropped from Rankings: Lucy Van Pelt (her cruelty and violence are difficult to overlook), Chalons Sur Marnes.

Also receiving votes: Pumpkin carols, Pont a Mousson, Lucy Van Pelt, Lucy's Mouth, Pigpen, low brick walls, The 20th Century, the gigantic red sun.

Post script: Power Rankings will continue periodically through Twelfth Night, January 5th, 2017. However, the next rankings will shift to #CharlieBrownThanksgiving in the #HappyHallowThanksmas Peanuts cycle. Consideration will be given to the first two shows in the holiday trilogy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Could a Double Concussion be the Root of Linus Halloween Issues?

I've been tough on Linus Van Pelt the past few years. I used to enjoy his pontifications and curiosities, rising above his insecurities and attachment to his woobie. But his questionable theology invested in dichotomous squash and the word if, and his antiquated views of women have soured my thoughts about Linus. Upon closer examination, I wonder if some of his issues are concussion related. At the beginning of #GreatPumpkinCharlieBrown, Linus is caught up in the roll of a large pumpkin, and toward the end of the show, when Linus thinks he witnesses the ascent of The Great Pumpkin, he faints, hitting his head on the hard ground. Double concussion? Hmm.

Maybe Linus may get some consideration in future rankings.

The Peanuts HappyHallowThanksmas Power Rankings for October 26, 2016

1. Snoopy (last ranking, #1)

How did all those bullets fly by, and only his plane got hit?

2. Vince Guaraldi (last ranking, #2)

Ron Burgundy aspires to that level of jazz flute.

3. Sally Brown (last ranking, #4)

Smashing the Patriarchy, one holiday at time.

4. Lucy Van Pelt (last ranking, #3)

Bad: Eldest child control-freak. Good: In the end, compassionate to her brother when he's outside, freezing his tuchas off.

5. Chalons Sur Marnes (last ranking, NR)

Best color palette in #HappyHallowThanksmas

Also receiving votes: If, Souza marches, Tricks or Treats, Jazz Flute, poison dog germs, concussions.






Monday, October 10, 2016

#HappyHallowThanksmas Power Rankings (#GreatPumpkinCharlieBrown Season) October 10, 2016

Linus can't believe with his own eyes that he dropped out of the Power Rankings.
As a pastor, I like to think I have interesting theological things to say. Whether a sermon or tweet, I cherish knowing that I cause people to think. More often than not, the response to my theological pontifications...crickets. However, for about 3 months each year, my Twitter thoughts get more play than average by exegeting the Charlie Brown television cartoons from the annual Happy Hallowthanksmas onslaught. While tweeting along with the show is fun, mostly I enjoy the banter and insight with my soon to be 10-year-old daughter.

The brevity of tweets is valued during Charlie Brown season; the time has come for blog posts. I give you the #HappyHallowThanksmas Power Rankings (#GreatPumpkinCharlieBrown Season) for October 10, 2016.

1. Snoopy

His vulnerability in wake of his service in World War I is inspiring.

2. Vince Guaraldi

The soundtrack for this show marks the beginning of autumnal glory.

3. Lucy Van Pelt

While not the kind of person one would want as a friend, Lucy knows how to get things done. I guess it's lonely at the top.

4. Sally Brown

Demanding restitution. Prophetic.

5. Rocks

If you're a geologist, don't answer this question. When was the last time a rock made you laugh?

Dropping out of the rankings:

Linus Van Pelt

Sure, it is his belief system that provides the framework of the story (h/t Adam McHugh). However...so many patriarchal assumptions in such a small window of time. 


Friday, May 27, 2016

How to Let People Know, "It's All About Us."



Churches in my tradition often post pictures of their church edifice on their website home page.

While it may communicate pride in the building, the congregation, or the church itself, what does it really communicate?

It's all about us.

One thing I've learned from watching HGTV and the shows that involve the sale of a home involves the staging process. The key to connecting with a potential buyer is giving every opportunity for that investor to imagine themselves in that space. Overly personal clutter takes away that imagination. Insider artifacts and language overpowers any story being told about the good things happening in the congregation.

When making public invitations to connect with a congregation, be aware of what you communicate. Using "us" as part of church language (or other first person plural language), or overly focusing on insider things prevents people from imagining themselves as part of the community. Church websites and social media are often like walking into a room where all of the people are telling each other inside jokes, and you have no idea what anyone is talking about.

Try telling stories about your community. Stories invite people to imagine the observer in that place. Don't tell people it's a welcoming and friendly church (lots of churches say that); let the stories speak for themselves.