Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A New Hat

My wife and kid went to the Mall of America today and brought me home a present: a new hat. I'm pretty particular when it comes to hats. I don't like hats with stuff on them: advertising, slogans, or sports teams. Just plain for me, thanks. And blue. I like blue. Dark blue.

The last hat that I bought was probably three years ago. It has certainly seen its share of sweat and wear. My family keeps telling me how gross it is. But it's comfortable! The picture below is of my old hat next to the brand new one that I got today.

Believe it or not, they are the same hat: the same color, the same size, the same brand - everything. It's hard to believe they were once the same color. Here's the inside of both hats.

Notice the tag at the back that says "LIDS." One is brown, and one is white. OK, I guess it was time for a new hat.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Letter I'll Never Have To Write

I was interested and amazed to hear letters that were written to the judge presiding over Bernie Madoff's sentencing tonight on the news. People who had been scammed by Madoff wrote letters to the judge, describing their personal hardships as a result of being scammed by Madoff, in hopes that the judge would pass a stiff sentence.

I found the content of the letters to be incredible: some were full of cursing, name calling, and wishing doom and gloom (one woman said she hopes he burns in hell) to Madoff. It occurred to me that I'll never have to write a letter like that, hoping that someone who had scammed me will burn in hell, and for that I am thankful.

It goes without saying that the people who were scammed by Madoff have a legitimate reason to be angry, but I think their anger also exposes some things about what they truly love. They are out of a LOT of money, and as a result, their lives are devastated. I hope that I am never in a position where my life is so dependent upon my assets that the loss of said assets would destroy me as it destroyed many whom Madoff scammed. All they had was their money - at least their money was all that was important to them. And when that was gone, so was any enjoyment of life, hope for the future, and anything else they treasured.

I have little or no money, not much in the way of investments, and no desire to get rich quick, and I don't depend upon money for my self identity and enjoyment of life. So I don't have to worry about being scammed (let alone, entering into a ponzi scheme). I'm glad I don't have to write a letter to Bernie Madoff.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Parade of Churches

The Kaposia Days parade was held this past Friday in South St. Paul. The parade is always a fun event at our house, because the parade line just happens to go directly by my house. We always have fun, and we usually have friends and family over for the parade too.

Each year there are always several churches who have acquired a spot in the parade, most of which have some sort of live band on a float playing worship music, accompanied by people on foot, handing out little fliers for their church. Ten or fifteen years ago, a live band on a parade float may have gotten some attention from observers, and may have even been enough for onlookers to further investigate the church advertised on the flier they received. Times have changed though. Again, in the past, when live bands were fewer and farther between, the general public may have been inclined to check it out - church band or otherwise. These days, however, live bands - especially church bands - are a fairly common occurrence. People just don't care about live music anymore. It doesn't grab their attention. It doesn't cause them to do a double take. It's not even enough for them to go out of their way to check it out or listen. Why? I think it's because live music is so common nowadays.

I first realized this about a month ago when the band that I play in held an outside concert during the West St. Paul days parade. We weren't on a float, but were instead about a block away from where it was. We made sure that we were loud enough that people on the street would be able to hear us and come check us out. We also offered free hotdogs and drinks. Guess what? About two people came to check out the band. Lots of people walked by on the street, but barely anyone came to hear the music. All that to say that live music just doesn't cut it anymore. It's too common.

But that's not even what I was intending to write about in this blog. Of the half-dozen churches that were represented in the Kaposia Days parade, I received a flier from each, telling me about some ministry they had coming up. Needless to say, I was rather put off by each of the fliers I received, and if I were a Christian in search of a church to attend, I most likely wouldn't even darken the doorways of these churches.

Probably the most ridiculous of the fliers is from a United Church of Christ. It's an envelope that is filled with wild flower seeds (a "sunny perennial mix). On the front of the envelope is a large green label that reads in large print, "Lights, Camera, Go Green." The subtitle says, "A music video experience that explores what it means to care for our environment." Further investigation reveals that this is an advertisement for the church's upcoming Vacation Bible School program. That's right: it's all about teaching kids to go green. The rest of the description reads: "Remember the song, 'Big Yellow Taxi'? Even though the song was written in the 1970's, its message is still important today, and it is the inspiration for this year's Vacation Bible School. Come sing along with our band, "The Messengers," as we create a music video of 'Big Yellow Tax." There will be singing, learning, crafts, and snacks centered around the them of going green. On the last night we will videotape everyone singing this song at our Night to Unite event."

Notice anything missing from this description of the church's Vacation BIBLE School? How about THE BIBLE!? How about ANY kind of mention of the GOSPEL!? What a joke. Not only is it sad that there's no mention of the Bible or the gospel, or Jesus, but I think it's pretty disgusting that a church would come down on one side or the other of such a hotly debated political issue.

A flier for the local United Methodist church reads at the top, "Looking for some change?" A penny is taped to the upper left hand corner of the paper. Below that it reads, "See what kind of change God has in store for you. Come visit us this Sunday for a worship service and BBQ lunch." In other words: "We don't want to offend you, and we want to do anything we can to show you how cool and normal you are. We won't do anything to make you feel uncomfortable." Again, there's nothing about scripture, God, or anything spiritual. It's completely man centered.

A lot of churches probably consider getting a float in the local parade, having a live band, and handing out invitation fliers to be "outreach." But is outreach really nothing more than inviting people to a comfortable, non-threatening BBQ? Is it trying to get people to be a part of your fad environmental program? Or is it actually preaching the gospel? What are these churches trying to do in their "outreach?" If it's just getting people to come to their church, then they'll probably be successful. But if outreach is actually preaching the gospel, then their efforts surely fell short of the mark.

I guess I'm not sure what I'm trying to say. Maybe that there's a lot of supposed "outreach" going on that is not actually outreach at all. Maybe we need to reexamine what our purposes and intentions are and then adjust our methods accordingly. If we're going to preach the gospel, let's preach it. Let's not just get people to come to a BBQ.

So no, I'm not going to have our church band play in a parade any time soon, and I'm not going to do any "environmental outreach" and think that I'm fulfilling the Great Commission.

I don't know. The churches in the parade just left a bad taste in my mouth.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What I'm Listening To Right Now

Literally. I'm listening to this as I type. I first saw this on Facebook about two weeks ago. It's a compilation of classic hymns done in modern ways, a production of several bands out of Mars Hill church in Seattle. To put it simply, it's a great album, and the songs are done respectfully and with a lot of talent and creativity, considering it's usually difficult to make something really good (hymns) better (the modern rendition of the hymns). But I think these arrangers and bands nailed this one.

I was able to get the album for free, because I told five people about the album. You can do likewise here.

I seriously recommend that you check this album out. The hymns are great, and the new renditions are great. Although I will admit that it did take some getting used to for a few of them. For example, I wasn't a huge fan of the renditions of "I Sing The Mighty Power of God" or "The Solid Rock" at first, but they have really grown on me. The arrangement of "What Wondrous Love Is This" is perhaps the best I've ever heard (although the key could've probably been raised a half step). In fact, I plan to tweak the Rain City version a bit and make it into a 12 bar blues song. I first heard this rendition during the Mars Hill live broadcast of their Good Friday service, and I was blown away by it. (UPDATE: The version of "What Wondrous Love is This" that is on the Rain City Hymnal is NOT the really cool one - although it is also very good. Check out the version by the band "Red Letter" here) "Softly And Tenderly" is also very well done, as well as "All Creatures Of Our God And King." It really rocks, which in my opinion, it should! "Alleluia! Alleluia! Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son. Praise, praise the Spirit, three in one." How appropriate to be shouting those lyrics alongside a screaming, overdriven guitar and banging drums.

If you do download the album, also check out Tim Smith's explanation for rearranging ancient music into more modern styles. I think he's right on.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Green Parking Spots

I haven't blogged in a long time. At first I was extremely busy with finishing up the spring semester for seminary. Then as soon as that ended, my work schedule picked up significantly. Add to the mix that my wife and I are expecting baby number 2 in about a month, and I'm a busy guy. Hence the shortage of posts. But even with all of that, I couldn't pass this up.

I was just over on Facebook and noticed that the seminary I attend had posted photos of the new campus construction. The seminary has been building a new building since selling their existing property to the local hospital. Every month or so they post pictures of how the construction of the new building is coming. As I was perusing through the newest batch of photos, I saw this:

The caption for the photo reads: "Since going green, the seminary will also offer great parking spots to those who drive hybrid vehicles." I don't know if I've ever seen anything so asinine. First of all, I find it completely ridiculous (and foolish and ignorant) that the seminary has "gone green," and even more preposterous that the seminary is offering premier parking spots for those who drive hybrids. I really don't know what else to say. I'm kind of ashamed. To think that those who drive hybrid vehicles somehow deserve a better parking spot because of their "green-consciousness" is absolutely ludicrous. I literally don't know what else to say.

That's it. Back to work.