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Preparing to Affirm

11 These are the things you must insist on and teach. 12Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. ~1 Timothy 4:11-12 (NRSV)

I’ve got a load of stuff to go through for “my” first session with Affirmands and Mentors on Sunday the 28th. I say “my” because I’m leading, adapting the curriculum every fourth Sunday of the month until the Affirmands join (or don’t join) our church. Affirmation, you wonder?

It’s a blanket term for our instruction for young people at Franklin Federated Church who are going to make a choice about being either confirmed (if they’re from the UCC tradition) or baptized (if they’re from the American Baptist tradition). It’s a big responsibility to be involved in the program, and I am more involved this year than I have been in the past.

It’s a big group of kids, a dozen or so, from many different surrounding towns, with many different family backgrounds and even some different theologies (and different attendance records)! As such, we may look like one thing at Franklin Federated, but we represent a fair amount of diversity. The one thing that unites us all is that at the end of this process, there will be a choice: these kids will stand and be counted among those members of the church that have decided to follow God through Jesus Christ, and are willing to make a public profession of that fact.

Or not.

The “or not” piece is vexing for some (meaning some parents) but necessary. It has to be a choice. As a gathered Protestant church, we rely on the body of adult and young adult believers to each make their own decision about whether or not to join. Some have said, “well, that’s all well and good, but wait until it’s your kids deciding and see how you feel.”

I will feel the same as you do. I will want them to find this faith that sustains me sustaining for them. And they may find it. But they may not. The only way for it to be real and true is for me to let go and let them make with God what they will make with God. Ultimately, they are not me. They are not even mine. Various folks attribute the quotes to various people who say, more or less, that children are lent to us for a short time. I think our relationship to them is deeper than that might imply, but it does get at the transitive nature of the deal we have with them. It also might help us to let go where we are able to let go, in order to let them become what they must become.

I hope the Affirmands have a great year. I hope they learn more about their faith than they knew. I hope they are changed by it all. I pray they will follow their hearts in May, and I pray we will have laid a firm enough foundation by then to help them make that decision as fully formed people in faith. More than anything, I hope they remember that this is only the beginning of their journey in faith. They needn’t finish anything; they only need to begin.


This App Made Me a Better Christian, Pt. 1

After my last post, I’m paying penance with an app I’ve used forever but that a favorite commentator of mine just recommended again: Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock.

It’s a simple program that uses the built-in accelerometer to gauge how well you’re sleeping. The idea is that in your deepest sleep, you move the least. You plug your phone in and set it on the corner of the bed, then wake up in the morning and check the graph.

The alarm clock works by discovering when, in a half-hour range of a certain time, you start moving more; i.e., it wakes you up from lighter sleep so that you feel more refreshed.

Does it work? Sure does. You will wake up better if you use the alarm. Even if you just use it to track sleep, you’ll learn more about your patterns and you can train yourself toward better sleep. When you’re better rested, you do everything else better, including seeking the face of Christ in others and becoming more aware of their hopes, dreams, and challenges.

Which iPad Would Jesus Buy?

A scribe then approached and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ ~Matthew 8:19-20

Yep, I'm the guy who wrote that headline. But those who know me won't be that surprised. I won't keep you in suspense:

Lightweight, more portable, a more economical choice; clearly Jesus would buy the iPad Mini, right? I mean, it's a slam dunk on finally bringing this amazing technology into the hands of the masses, and the iPhone itself was already dubbed the Jesus phone, right? At $329, you'll be able to buy one for each of your three kids and still be under $1000 for Christmas!

Wait, did I really just write that?

If you've got $1000 to spend on Christmas presents for the kids, we should probably talk. I may have some projects at Franklin Federated Church that you'd like to support.

But there WILL be trees in Franklin this Christmas with an iPad Mini underneath for many children this year. The funny thing, the amazing thing, is that anyone would think this was a reasonable gift for any child.

I am no luddite. I love technology. I use an iPad every day. I'm writing this blog post on one, using the app Blogsy, which is rock solid and productive). I let my children play with it occasionally, mostly educational games (lots of great feedback right now on Disney's “The Presidents,” a fun app that mirrors some of the spirit of the Hall of the Presidents experience at the Disney theme parks). But the idea that any child “needs” an iPad Mini for anything is preposterous.

Maybe as preposterous as trying to discern which iPad Jesus would buy.

I'm pretty sure that if Jesus was around, and assuming that he was going to use all the latest technology at his disposal, the way Emergent Church folks love to say he would, and further assuming that he actually started writing things down (which would be the biggest break with his typical modus operandi), he'd probably have a notebook and a pencil.

Not to compare him to Jesus, but Cormac MacCarthy recently retired his Olivetti Lettera Typewriter. Every novel he ever wrote was written on it. Have you read MacCarthy? Incredibly dense, evocative prose, that approaches poetry on nearly every page. I can only guess at how many revisions his works pass through. And that means he probably RE-typed them on the Olivetti. It fetched over $250,000 at auction. But why didn't he save it? Because he was done with it. He didn't need it. And he banked on it, smartly.

Woody Allen writes on an Olympia portable SM-3. Not even a top-of-the-line machine. And, like McCarthy, not even a word processor. Stunning, no? All those screenplays. Fifty years of writing. All on the Olympia.

I love using the iPad, but on a level, every bit of this stuff is a distraction. I don't need it. I know I don't need it. Every time the AT&T bill comes I think about just getting a basic phone with no data plan. And then I get lost in a road somewhere, and I left the GPS in the other car, and I manage to map it all out on the iPhone and get home. I write sermons and answer email on this iPad. It's useful.

But for what it cost, should I be recommending everyone get one?

I don't think so. I don't think we all need so many distractions nearby. I'm not going to solve this one today, but I am sounding the alarm; our tools may be insulating us from the heart of our work, if we're not careful. And far greater works than any we've produced on these “amazing, incredible, magical” devices have been produced by an ancient traveling preacher and the folks who scratched his words out on papyrus.



The Tops Not the Edges

“May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness” ~Psalm 72:3 (NRSV)

When hiking, I like the tops, but not the edges.

Call me over-cautious, if you must. I think of myself more as a parent of three kids under the age of eight, where the edges bring unlimited potential for disaster. The vistas around them, though? Amazing, beautiful, and every other cliche that might spring to mind.

In the bank of my memories, this hike on Saturday, October 20th will probably linger for a long, long time. It may well one of the views that passes before my eyes when life finally ebbs. It’s the view from the Lookout Hill at the Blackstone River and Canal State Park. Each week, the couple who lead our Connect Group pick a spot for all of us to hike, and we’ve got quite a crew; typically, eight kids and six adults. I’d hate to walk into a 99 looking for a table, but out in nature, it keeps things interesting.

Connect Groups are the small group program at Franklin Federated Church, and it’s been a wonderful semester. It’s a brand new program, but seems to have gotten a lot of traction with members of the church…and even some non-members! We are blessed to be able to gather once a week outside of church in these groups, with different activities to focus the fellowship and the conversation. Our group meets for a weekly hike, but others go to the movies and have a discussion group, or read a book and discuss it over soup, or practice digital photography, and so on. The only requirement we asked folks to stick with was to pray for one another around a circle in what we’ve called Connecting Prayer: you sit in a circle and pray for the person on your right, then they do, and so on.

The reports so far are that people really like this format, especially since the activities vary based on what you’ve chosen. None of them are getting view like we are, though!

A few weeks we traveled to Hopedale to hike a gentle loop, and the week after that we hiked the Franklin State Forest. Sometimes the kids get a little whiney (the youngest is four), but if they push through they seem to have a good time. Most of them seem to be sleeping a little better on our hike days. But the real treasure comes somewhat near the end of our time together, when we circle up and pray; yes, kids included!

Sometimes they are too shy. Sometimes they wind up just whispering a prayer in the ear of the parent they’re sitting beside. But sometimes, we get what feels like gold; they manage to thank God for the glory of the creation around them, and they point out something they like and value in the person sitting beside them. Having a child pray for you in a unique and humbling experience. The first week, my son thanked God that I made such great breakfast. I don’t know, I don’t think my breakfasts are any better than most interested guys can come up with, but it was nice to know we’re making memories together both around the table at meal time and out on the trail hiking.

Yes, it’s hard work getting to some of these vistas. It doesn’t always mean traveling in a perfect line. Some run ahead. Some run to the edges. We keep calling them back, calling them back, to focus, to see, to breathe and to pray with us. I know we don’t get to the tops without skirting the edges. And ultimately, it’s all worth it.

A Fine New Weather App for iOS

If you use an iOS device, you could do a lot worse in the way of weather apps than Check the Weather.

It came over the transom recommended by a number of writers I follow, and it's instantly on my iPhone dock. More information on the main screen than anything with much less distraction. I am also partial to the fonts and icons. Scroll up and you even get Dark Sky integration, for minute-by-minute crowd-sourced rain reports.

Since I'm part of a Connect Group at Franklin Federated that does its meeting outdoors, a solid, dependable weather app is right in my wheelhouse. I recommend you check it out. Well worth it at $1.99.


Commissioning Worship at ANTS

A wonderful service today at my alma mater. You have got to love it when your school hits it out of the park. The Field Education program at Andover Newton Theological School is a vital enterprise. I tell anyone who will listen that I wouldn't be in ministry at all if it wasn't for my Field Education experience at ANTS and the United Church of Christ, Congregational of Burlington, MA. I had inklings that I might be able to enter the ministry, but it was not until Field Education with mentor Peggy Derick (retired) that I learned I could love it.

Field education is where the rubber hits the road in seminary education. It's where your intentions and the office of the pastor meet and meld and sometimes clash, and it's where some of your fitness for ministry is discerned. As such, it's about transitions, and finding your voice, and taking risks. The chapel service at ANTS today captured all this, and Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Jones preached about how to take risks well. I was inspired, and it bet it was similar for Teaching Parish Committee members felt the same. I would highly recommend you come up for this service next year if you have a student minister at your church.


Friday is LGBT Spirit Day

I just found out about wearing purple on Friday in support of LGBT youth and to stand against bullying. Guess I'm on a theme this week. I don't have any purple to wear. My own wardrobe tends to run mostly black, blacker, and blackest.

I guess if you support ending bullying of these folks you'd better get some purple on that day. Some might see you and trust you as an ally. If you don't support ending bullying of such folks, you probably shouldn't be reading this blog.