Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Blog Changes

Blog Readers,
I have updated all of my blogs and retired one (straight beams). The New Blogger "Customize Your Blog" option is fantastic. It has replaced the tedious work of having to edit your own HTML to a drag and drop program that allows you to change nearly all aspects of your blog (background color, fonts, etc.) Perhaps the best feature, and the thing that caused me to make the jump to the "new blogger" is the labels feature which allows an aging blog (plus 100 posts) to have some categories for folks to draw from. Hope you all enjoy the new lay out.
Oh, and for those who where enjoying Straight Beams, I have folded all of my past posts into ReformedAnglican and Slocumsepctive and will now post music and culture posts on Reformed Anglican and most movie posts on Slocumspective.


Monday, February 26, 2007

Enter The Worship...

Every few months or so I scour the land for new music. Very rarely do I find amazing music coming out of the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) Scene. Instead, for the past ten years I have found a singular source for excellence in music. This source is Ben and Robin Pasley. The have started an artistic co-operative called the Blue Renaissance Group, as well as the amazing Enter The Worship Circle Projects that have come out in the last nine years. What is incredible about this group of artists is that they are not interested in sales or how many people came to a show. They are interested in making fine art that glorifies God and supporting a community of artists who are of like minds. Ben and Robin have mentored, collaborated with and lead so many talented artists over the years. Much of their work is in colleges and in small venues- even churches! They see themselves as missionaries rooted in the communities who send them into the field.

Recent finds for me are Aaron Strumpel, Todd Berger, Ryan and Jen Lott (sonlux), Tracy Howe (therestorationproject), and the very out of the box Bridge Church folks who are calling themselves Agents of Future. (Their My Space Page is off the hook!

Todd Berger worked on Village Thrift
The song Strong Weakness is a song I ignored for too long because of the dissonance at the beginning of the song. It is annoying but effective. However, once you get past the dissonance it is pure beauty. Check out the video below:

This is a Portland Oregon Group from the Bridge Church. There is some amazing talent in the room and when they take their stuff to the studio and mix it, it is just amazing. There isn’t a hint of CCM in this band. They are pure! You must check out their my space page and have a listen to their songs.

Agents of Future

Life in the Shire

Morpheous (Archbishop Akinola) and Gandolf (Archbishop Williams)

I have spent 3 and a half very fruitful years focusing on Parish ministry after years of engaging the national issues of The Episcopal Church in America and how the monist-universalist agenda of our present leadership is eroding the fabric of historic reformed Anglicanism both in the West and globally. After the 2003 General Convention, where we elected a non-celebate homosexual to be a bishop, I began my ministry full-time in the Parish. When I left Minneapolis, where I witnessed Gene Robinson's election, I closed a personal door on pursuing matters related to the national church. In middle earth terms, I returned from Mordor to the quiet work of the Shire. These years have been very productive. People are hearing the Gospel, growing in faith, and reaching out to others. Although my general policy has been to by quiet about the forces of "Mordor" while I enjoy this time here in the "Shire" of South Carolina, I occasionally raise my head from my work on special occasions. One such occasion is the recent meeting of the Primates in Tanzania. I have checked TITUSONENINE now three times in three weeks!(That's titus 1:9. I once thought it read tit-us-on-ine) I also really enjoyed Kendall Harmon's talk here at the Church of the Cross on February 14th. For anyone interested in seeing just how monocular The Episcopal Church is in the face of the Global Church, check out Kendall's perspective HERE

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

LENT- Sacrifice

Sacrifice: A Band of Brothers

Lent is a season that encourages us to makes sacrifices as a way of preparing our hearts for the greatest sacrifice that was ever made- Christ’s death on the cross. In Lent we give up or take on something significant in order to allow ourselves to grow closer to God. It is an ancient practice that has allowed millions of Christians to more deeply understand the role of sacrifice in our lives. There are few words that are more powerful in the Christian vocabulary than sacrifice. The word holds in its mighty hands love, courage, selflessness, and triumph. Everything worth pursuing in life requires sacrifice and it is through the sacrifices of God and through our own sacrifices that we truly experience joy, pride, and happiness. As we move through the season of Lent, we will be offering the men of The Church of the Cross an opportunity to grow more deeply in their understanding of and need for sacrifice in order to grow closer to God. This four week series will look at the role of sacrifice in the Christian life through four films: Facing the Giants, Les Miserables, The Mission, and The Passion. We will meet at our Buckwalter Campus on Tuesdays (3-13, 3-20, 3-27, 4-3) from 6:30-9:30. We will be providing dinner ($6.00 meal from Golden Corral) from 6:30-6:50. The movie will begin at 6:55 and discussion will follow. We will end each week at 9:30. Men are encouraged to invite friends and neighbors. To sign up please call the church office (757-2763).

Week One March 20th
Les Miserable (1998) retells Victor Hugo’s incredible story of Jean Valjean (Liam Neeson), a heartless convict, living during the time of the French Revolution, whose life is transformed through a powerful act of sacrifice when a Bishop frees Him from a life of guilt and shame. In turn, Valjean turns his life over to God by making great sacrifices for Fantine (Uma Thurman), a vulnerable prostitute, who begs Valjean to raise her only child, Cosette (Claire Danes).

Week two March 13th
Facing the Giants (2006) is a story about courage, faith, and sacrifice. In this film, failing high-school football coach, Grant Taylor finds that in order to succeed he must convince his team that there's more to sports than fame and glory. As his sixth season as coach begins to crumble, “Taylor is faced with the prospect of either cutting his losses and admitting defeat or turning his life over to God in an attempt to test the true power of faith. With his job on the line and nothing left to lose, Coach Taylor convinces his determined team of underdogs that there's nothing they can't accomplish with a little faith -- including the miracle of a winning season when all hope seems lost.” Jason Buchanan

Week Three March 20th
The Mission (1986) stars (Robert De Niro) as Mendoza, a ruthless slave trader who, after killing his brother Felipe (Aidan Quinn) in a fit of rage, seeks redemption by calling upon a group of missionaries to assist him. Through the mission, Mendoza finds redemption and becomes a devout missionary at a settlement run by Gabriel (Jeremy Irons). The missionaries become entangled in the world of 19th century Spanish Politics which insist that slavery remain a vital part of the economy. Rather than give in to the ruthless demands of the government, the missionaries make huge sacrifices in order to uphold the Gospel, save the Indian people, and keep their own hearts from being sold into the slavery of greed and comfort. Paul Brenner

Week Three April 4th
The Passion (2004) is Mel Gibson’s presentation of the last 12 hours of Jesus life. This incredibly unsettling depiction of Christ’s death will be viewed during Holy Week and will allow us to see the incredible sacrifice that Jesus made for each of us.

Manhood- Passing the RISK- Baton

My grandfather always had a bike. He died owning a 1975 Honda CB 754 with a black side car. Pictured above, my grandfather is seated on a mid 30's Indian. This was his first bike. He sold it to pay for my mother's birth, crib, and carriage. He was a great man who understood the need to face massive challenges in life, to take risks that could kill you, and to make huge sacrifices in order to be fully alive.

A few months ago, a women from our church told me that I was foolish and irresponsible because I persist in riding a BMX bike even though I am pushing 40. She said something like, "You have a wife and kids and a flock to oversee. How could you take those kinds of risks." My response was simple. I said, "In order for me to be alive, I have to take risks. In order for me to do all I do to love and protect and care for those under my care, I must have a small arena where I can face odds." It is the facing of odds in the small arena, day after day and week after week that keeps me vibrant and fit for the larger arena of life that requires of me to overcome great odds. BMX might kill me, but not BMXing might just steal from me my manhood. As Neal Young Said, It's better to burn out, then to fade away.
Along this area of being a man who is willing to take risks, I want to recommend two things for the fat and happy. First, is a film called The World's Fastest Indian (trailer). It is a film that tells the story of Burt Munro, who road a motorcycle until his dying day, knowing that it was the joy of overcoming odds that kept him vibrant and alive. Though the risks he took could have killed him, the risks he took kept him fully alive.
The second resource is a book called RISK, by Kenny Luck. The book shows how to break the chains of predictability, control, safety, and comfort in exchange for a radically dependent trust in God.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Simple Church

I usually do not like church growth books. They remind me too much of Muzak. You remember Muzak right (Is there still Muzak?). Muzak takes stuff like a Bruce Springsteen song and puts it into a format that can be played inside an elevator or a mall. It's like background music. The problem for me with muzak is that the music baptizes all of the grit, all of the sweat, all of the context from a song and makes it into something, well, "vanilla." Born To Run just needs someone behind the mike growling. Anyway, so many church growth books seem to try to boil down the amazing phenomenon of being a vibrant Spirit filled church into something that can be consumed by all. The blood, sweat, tears, and laughter that God stirs in the hearts of men and women which make a church truly great are often put into some kind of neat process that can be used "everywhere with similar results. "

This is not to say that these books do not have ANY merit. There are some fine general principles that can be gleaned from such books. Like design rules (you must know them before you can break them) they may help us in a general way. However, rarely do I find church growth books compelling or revolutionary. That is, until I read Simple Church. This book is beautiful. It presents elegant and simple ideas for helping churches to move away from having frenetic calendars to designing their common life in such a way that it brings honor to God and spiritual growth to the church

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The New U2? Mewithoutyou!

Great artists, great musicians, searching lyrics, very emo. I have been enjoying this band. They are producing music outside of the CCM matrix and I do beleive that the Nebuchadnezzar has landed.

Mewithoutyoui-Cornerstone 06

Mewithouyou- paper hanger

Mewithouyou- January 1979

Mewithoutyou- Carousel
On a bus ride into town
I wondered out loud "Why am I going to town?"
And as I looked around at the billboards and the stores
I thought "Why do I look around?"
And I kissed the filthy ground
And in the first dry spot I found
And I didn't have to wonder why I was laying down.

Before long I was too cold
Took a bus back to the station
I found a letter left by a pay phone
With no return contact
And it read like a horn blown by some sad angel
"Bunny, it was me... it was me who let you down"
It was the shyest attempt I'd ever seen at conversation

If I didn't have You as my guide I'd still wander lost in Sinai,
Counting the plates of cars from out-of-state,
(how I could jump in their path as they hurry along!)
You surround me, you're pretty but you're all I can see,
like a thick fog - if there was no way into God,
I would never have laid in this grave of a body for so long.

And Bonner fair always came through the first week of September
But it's already the 19th
And there's no sign of it.
Yet I have a hard time
Remembering all the things that I should remember
And a hard time
Forgetting the all things that I am supposed forget.

Oh Christ when You're ready to come back
I think I'm ready for You to come back
But if You want to stay wherever exactly it is You are,
That's okay too - it's really none of my business.
If I didn't have You as my guide I'd still be wandering lost in Sinai
Or down by the tracks watching trains go by to remind me:
There are places that aren't here.
I had a well but all the water left
So I'll ask Your forgiveness with every breath,
If there was no way into God,
I would never have laid in this grave of a body for so long, dear.


Here are the two pics that I showed from the February 10th Sermon on the ways we try to cover wounds by hiding. In the Sermon, Saul the Hiding King: When Wounds Keep Us From Greatness, I talked about my retreat into rebellion- leather and a 1972 Cadillac- as a means of covering the shame that I developed when I was turned down as an RA (Residence Assistant) at The King's College in 1987. Since I was more concerned what my peers thought of me than what the Living God thought of me, I bought a deep lie that said that my own sense of worth rested in being invited into an inner circle.

Superman Is the Man

Art by Kevin Nowland

“Hey Bob, Supe had a straight job, even though he could have smashed through any bank in the United States, he had the strength, but he would not.” The Superman Song by Brad Richards from the Crash Test Dummies

Superman proves that the beginning of virtue is saying not “Can I do it?” but, “Should I do it?” and Superman shows himself to be a man of virtue because despite his super-powers he chooses to use them, not for personal gain, but for the building of a just society. May you use your powers today in a way that stops crimes, rescues damsels, and keeps the city alive!


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Me Me Me

“When I was three I thought the world revolved around me I was wrong, and now I sing along.”* Bono

It’s not about me. That is an amazing realization. Once we learn that we were made to love God and others before ourselves, our lives have the potential to turn from selfish gray to worldwide full color. Don’t be a selfish clod, give something to God and others today and shout from the rooftop, “When I was three I thought the world revolved around me I was wrong, and now I sing along.”

*Today’s quote is from U2’s song Party Girl and can be found on the 1983 Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky Album

Party Girl

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Habits Form Us

“You cannot play with the animal in you without becoming wholly animal, play with the falsehood without forfeiting your right to truth, play with cruelty without losing your sensitivity of mind. He who wants to keep his garden tidy doesn’t reserve a plot for weeds.” Dag Hammarskjold

One of the most frightening times of my life occurred when, at 14, I realized that the habits I was forming were forming me. It was this realization that forced me into the arms of God. I knew what the posters in the halls at school said; “If you can believe it, you can achieve it.” I knew what me and my friends thought: “Religion is for weak people who cannot hack life." All that is just words. Watching yourself turn into something you hate is a powerful remedy for false truths. So, now I realize that Christianity is for the weak, but I also believe that I can do all things through He who strengthens me. There is a beauty to admitting you are weak. There is also a hidden power in knowing that there is an evil out there so forceful and dominating that it can consume you. So, now I live with my weakness, but I have a strength that is not my own living inside of me- the Spirit of the Living God. I hope you run to Him today, run to Him today so that you will not be consumed by the habits that are forming you.

From Shmeagol to Golum

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Oh Praise Him: The Need to Worship

"I lift up one foot and it says, 'Glory!' and I lift the other foot and it says, 'Amen!' and so they keep on like that all the time I'm walking. If I were to go down to Hell I would shout, 'Glory! Glory!' unto my blessed Jesus until I made the bottomless pit ring again, and that miserable old Satan would say, 'Billy, Billy, this is no place for thee; get thee back.' Then up to Heaven I would go, shouting, 'Glory, glory, praise the Lord!'"Billy Bray

Billy Bray was a 19th Century Cornish Farmer who went from a life of drunkenness to a life of preaching. He had such a strong sense of his own conversion that people called him, “The King’s Son” due to his constant references to himself as the Son of the King of Heaven. Many today would call Billy a fanatic. I call him refreshing and wonderful. Billy knew how much God loved us and he knew how to give that love back. Oh that we would be reconciled to God and do the same today.

O Praise Him

The Digital Pastors?

Maureen Simpson of the Island packet did a great job on a recent feature article in our local paper on how some of us pastors in the Low Country deal with Technology. Blog On!

Pastors turn to technology for help writing sermons

The Island Packet
Published Saturday, January 27, 2007
Sometimes, even the Holy Spirit isn't enough to move a congregation with a short attention span.

So some local clergy are finding that even a profession based on ageless truths needs the occasional upgrade -- from where they draw inspiration, how they prepare their messages and how they deliver them.
The Rev. Jerry Kramer of Lowcountry Presbyterian Church has been a minister for almost 40 years. He remembers the days when everything he produced began at "the old typewriter." Now, though he prefers to write his sermon outlines out on a yellow legal pad, he no longer has to pore over stacks of aged index cards and clunky reference books to find helpful commentaries or appropriate illustrations. Instead, virtually everything he needs is just a click away -- giving him more time to focus on how to be creative enough for his congregation.
"Sometimes, I think I could get rid of 90 percent of the books on my shelves and not miss them," said Kramer, who has gone increasingly to E-books and Bible software that enables him to have almost an entire library on his laptop.
"I'm finding that preaching over the years has become much more narrative or storytelling," he said. "A sermon 30 years ago only needed one illustration, and the rest was Biblical and more doctrinal. Now, you have to craft them in a way where people will really listen and respond. It has to have humor in it."
Usually -- in addition to Biblical text itself -- he turns to a lot of secular fiction ("The Alchemist" was his most recent read) or faith-based Web sites for inspiration. Marrying these sources, he said, tends to produce topics that are both socially and spiritually relevant.
When presenting his material to members of his church, however, he prefers to stick with his "no-note" style of preaching. And PowerPoint, he said, is rarely incorporated -- if ever. Though he has pastored at churches that prefer that sort of visual stimulation, his current congregation wishes otherwise. As much a fan of tradition as he is of technology, Kramer complies, noting that sometimes electronics can work against you.
"It's important to still be able to create word pictures in people's minds. I've found that visuals could be more distracting," he said. "If a gifted preacher can create word pictures in people's minds, the visual is more internal than external and thus more effective."
As someone who says he was "nursed on 'Gilligan's Island'<2009>" and is enthralled by graphic design, the Rev. Jay Slocum of The Church of the Cross Buckwalter Parkway Campus respectfully disagrees. In his opinion, the image-based culture in which we live demands we pay attention to it.
"I can never imagine not having images be part of what we're doing, but you also have to be creative with it. Don't just have a PowerPoint up for the sake of having a PowerPoint," Slocum said. He works in conjunction with the church's worship leader to fashion creative graphics and illustrations to accompany his sermons. He has begun crafting YouTube-like videos that he calls "digital teaching and preaching." The 6-miclips are filmed at various locations in Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island and shown before his sermons to help illustrate the points he then expounds on in the pulpit.
"Since people are reading less and less and watching more and more, you have to have a tool to reach them," he said. "It definitely depends on your demographic, though."
Slocum said that just a few years ago it would have been difficult to produce quality videos and presentations that were engaging enough for an audience, but now both the tools and the expectations are in alignment.
"People are able to handle it better, and it's produceable," he said. "It's more plausible to people too, because they're used to seeing it."
Despite Slocum's and others' strong leanings toward technology and image-based preaching, not all clergy feel the pressure or need to keep up with "The Sims."
Like Kramer and Slocum, Rabbi Mark Covitz of Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head said he will read or listen to other clergy's commentaries on the Internet for ideas, but ultimately prefers conversations when it comes to preparing and delivering his messages. Even the wealth of resources on the Web can't compare to the inspiration that surrounds him every day, he said.
"We do our best work when talking to people, not a computer," he said, noting he schedules a weekly phone conversation with a rabbi in New Jersey to share thoughts and ideas. "When personal contact is replaced by computer communication, I think the community loses its soul. I don't use a lot of technology in presentations. I think a sermon should be done in an old-fashioned way, from a preacher's mouth to a listener's ears."
No matter their differing perspectives on how technology should or should not be incorporated into their profession, all three clergy agree it's a job that should not be taken lightly. A fine line exists between researching sources and ripping them off, and they say it's one that is crossed too often by some of their spiritual counterparts who purchase and use complete sermon transcripts off the Web.
"I was just reading something a day or two ago where someone said, 'Pastors are so busy that ultimately, you have to do what works,'<2009>" Kramer relayed in hushed dismay. "What was once considered plagiarism is now more commonplace. I've listened to some younger preachers and wondered whose sermon I'm hearing. Sometimes (those Web sites) can be helpful in terms of structure, but I'm of the old-school thinking that a sermon should be your own. It's a matter of integrity."
Slocum, who maintains four different blogs on various personal and spiritual topics throughout the week and posts all his sermons online, said he is open to having other people use his material since advancing the kingdom of God is a common goal of the clergy. But, they need to give people credit where credit is due and be able to reinterpret messages for the community in which they live.
"Everything I create is out there. You can have it if you want it," Slocum said. "What's disturbing to me is pastors that really aren't cng anything new, just baptizing old ideas over and over again. I call it using 'stock' rather than using something that emerges out of you and your relationship with God."
Just as their faith teaches them that the Bible is not meant to be an easy book with simple directives, these clergy understand their job isn't to deliver easy answers and catchy slogans, but to struggle alongside their congregations in examining the text and their concepts of God -- using whatever resources they can to help reach and connect with them.
"A lot of people say preaching has had its day, but I think preaching has never been as dynamic because of all the tools we have to use," Slocum said.
Added Kramer: "Change is part of what keeps ministry fresh and dynamic for me."
Contact Maureen Simpson at 706-8141 or