Saturday, August 30, 2008

What was McCain thinking?

[Note: Politics has no place in Margaritaville – that’s one of the reasons we go there. So you probably won’t hear any more from me about the campaigns or election as we approach November. But this was just too good to resist.]

One of the women below is John McCain’s pick for his vice-presidential running mate. The other is Rachel Welch. Need I say more?

I will anyway.

Rachel Welch is a contemporary of McCain (she’s four years younger than he), but she’s holding up much better. I wouldn’t mind looking at her in press conferences over the next four years.

But Sarah Palin is not Rachel Welch. So outside of the obvious glam factor, what does Sara Palin offer the “McCain for President” campaign?

Okay, she’s huggable. [Odd, I didn’t see Barak Obama hug Joe Biden like this!] Note to Mrs. McCain: Best keep an eye on the old fart!

Governor Palin is 44 – 24 years younger than Rachel Welch, two years younger than Barak Obama. Her political experience boils down to two term as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska (population estimated somewhere between 5,000 and 9,000), and 20 months as governor of Alaska (population 683,478). She has no foreign policy experience… despite one pundit’s idiotic notion that since Alaska is geographically closer to Russia, that counts!

And she has never appeared on “Meet the Press”.

So now the McCain camp can no longer accuse Obama of lacking experience. He has selected a very inexperienced person to be “a heartbeat away from the presidency” – and with McCain’s heartbeat, that’s relevant!

Sure, she’s pro-life, which will shore up the Religious Right vote. And she knows her way around firearms, so the NRA is happy. She has a son being deployed to Iraq next month [same as Joe Biden], which helps with… somebody, I’m sure.

But she disagrees with the commonly held notion that humans are a main cause of global warming – which McCain believes (now), and she favors drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – which McCain opposes (now).

And what’s up with the bearskin rug?

There goes the PETA vote!

According to news accounts, McCain met her once – only six months ago, and had spoken to her only once – by phone, on Sunday when he invited her to be his running mate!

To be honest, beyond the glam factor, I just don’t understand what McCain was thinking.

Doesn’t it really just boil down to this? McCain needed a woman, someone to lure the Hillary Democrats over to the Republican side – those who vote for gender rather than ideals and issues?

But if he just wanted a woman, why not a real woman?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Once I owned a railroad...

With the weather hovering between 85-90 degrees with less than normal humidity, I have sought outdoor venues for my daily lunch breaks. Unfortunately, because Memphis is known more for 90-100 degree temperatures with 90-100 percent humidity, few restaurants have bothered to develop outdoor seating for the one or two weeks per year that are suitable for eating out, which limits my choices.

Eating outside is doubly-enjoyable for me. I get a little fresh air at mid-day to fire up some sluggish brain cells, and I don’t have to eat in the meat lockers Memphis calls restaurants! Why do the managers feel the need to hyper-cool their lobbies?

They can’t bring back the glaciers no matter how cold they set the thermostats!

So while the weather has held up, it has been refreshing to not be turned into a human popsicle while trying to scarf down my burger and fries before they develop frost-bite!

But I digress. As Arlo Guthrie might say, “This is not really a song about air conditioners in Memphis…”

So, last week I was enjoying a Caesar chicken wrap and large ice tea (unsweet, please) on the patio at McAlister’s Deli (not an endorsement, just part of the story). And, as I always take a book along when I don’t have a companion to share the mealtime, I was reading “The Sex Lives of Cannibals”. No, really. It's by J. Maarten Troost.

I hadn’t seen him approach, but suddenly, a tall stranger was standing outside the fence rail next to my table: “I don’t normally ask for a handout,” he began.

And I don’t normally give handouts either.

He continued: “…but I was at Corky’s applying for a job and I ran out of gas up here on Poplar; I don’t have any way of getting home to West Memphis.”

I did a quick assessment: he appeared clean – he could very well have been applying for a job. I had never noticed him hanging around the area before. Maybe he was telling the truth.

In that moment I was reminded of the scripture passage, “Give to everyone who asks of you.” Dammit. I hate it when that happens.

There I was, eating a $10 lunch… I still had cash in my wallet… maybe he was telling me the truth. I fished out two fives and sent him along with God’s blessings. Two-and-a-half gallons of gas should get him back across the river.

Maybe I did a good deed.

Today I was back in the area, this time eating sushi at an outdoor table at Wild Oats. My quiet meal was interrupted when the car alarm went off in the sedan parked directly in front of my table. So I picked up my book and headed off to satisfy my fetish for office supplies at Office Depot.

(Shut up.)

I noticed a tall man approaching. I couldn’t call him a stranger because I had met him before. And as before, he began, “I don’t normally ask for a handout, but I was applying for a job at Corky’s…”

I stopped him before he could go on: “Yes, apparently you do, because just last week you asked me for money over at McAlister’s.” Busted!

He moved on, mumbling about why I couldn’t help a “brutha”. I assured him that I “could”, but I wouldn’t. Yet before I entered Office Depot, I heard those familiar words in the distance: “I was at Corky’s applying for a job…” He had found another sucker.

And I was disillusioned once again.

It’s not easy trying to be a Christian in the world today. (Sigh.)

Monday, August 25, 2008

It's About Time...!

The following was posted on "The Onion", August 20, 2008 (sent to me by my sister):

"Darling, There's Something I've Been Hiding From You"
by Jimmy Buffett

Darling, I know we've been together for over 30 years, and we've always promised that we would never keep any secrets from each other. But I think you should brace yourself, because, well, there is one thing I haven't been completely honest about: I'm Jimmy Buffett.

Please don't be mad!

I know that for all these years you thought I was "Jimmy Buffett the boat salesman who had to travel a lot for work." But no. I am Jimmy Buffett the multiplatinum recording artist known for such songs as "Margaritaville" and "Son Of A Son Of A Sailor." It's not something I'm very proud of, but it pays the bills.

I understand it's a lot to take in right now, but it's true. Your husband and the father of your children wrote and recorded the song "Cheeseburger In Paradise." I actually wrote the lyrics to it the night we met. I understand if you never want to speak to me again.

It's been tearing me up inside, lying to you like this. I can't stand all the sneaking around, so as much as it pains me, I must reveal the awful truth. Last night when I told you I was going to run to the store for a second, I actually flew down to Miami and performed in front of 45,000 people for my Year of Still Here Tour. Also, that Country Music Award on my dresser? That wasn't a gag gift like I said. That is real. And I didn't save up for your diamond engagement ring by taking extra shifts at the marina. Something called "Pencil Thin Mustache" bought that ring. It's a song about a guy who wants a pencil thin mustache.

Jesus Christ, what have I done?

And all those times I told you that I was "going to the Jimmy Buffett concert"? Well, I wasn't attending those concerts, I was standing on stage singing songs for thousands of screaming fans. Yes, the very same people who come up to me on the street and tell me how much they love me.

They're called…they're called Parrotheads and I'm sorry!

Please, don't let this change the way you think of me. I'm still the same guy I've always been, except that I don't actually sell boats, and occasionally I yell to thousands of people to "get your fins up" and then they wave their hands around above their heads and pretend they're sharks.
If it's any consolation, I'm also a bestselling author. That's not so bad, right? My newest novel is called Swine Not? and on the cover there's a picture of me in a hammock next to a pig, and…. Oh

God, you know what, just forget I ever mentioned that.

I didn't want you to ever have to find out about this, but I knew you were starting to get suspicious. Especially the other night, when we were watching TV and the A&E Biography on Jimmy Buffett came on, and he looked exactly like me, and then they showed a picture of the two of us together while they were talking about his family life. I tried to throw you off the trail by accusing you of having an affair with Jimmy Buffett the singer, but deep down, I knew it was time to come clean.

"A Pirate Looks At Forty," "Why Don't We Get Drunk (And Screw)," "Jamaica Mistaica"—all me. Every single one of them. That was me.

I'm sure this probably explains a lot, like how we're able to eat for free twice a day, every day at the Margaritaville Café. Also, the reason I don't let you into the garage and scream at you if you even go near the door is because it's not really a garage, it's a $4 million recording studio. And it's tropical- themed.

You know our friend Greg Taylor who I always call "Fingers" and who is always carrying around a harmonica? Well, he's Fingers Taylor, the guy who plays the harmonica in my backup band, the…ugh, the Coral Reefers. I know, it sounds stupid! It all sounds so stupid, but it's my life!

I still don't know how you didn't figure out my horrible secret last year when we were at that Alan Jackson concert together and he pulled me up on stage. Remember? See, I wasn't doing Jimmy Buffett cover songs for karaoke, I was actually being Jimmy Buffett because I am him, and I was performing songs that I wrote, sometimes right when you were in the next room with the kids.

Oh my God, the kids! They must never find out.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Okay, you know I'm not all that patriotic! So what's all the shouting about?

They did it! Misty May-Treanor & Keri Walsh have won their second consecutive Olympic Gold medal in beach volleyball!

That makes 108 consecutive matches -- that is, they haven’t lost a single match since last August! In Olympic competition (2004 & 2008) they didn’t even lose a single game!

They played it close in the driving rain last night (21-18, 21-18), but it quickly became apparent that China’s Wang & Tian did not have the experience needed to defeat the American powerhouse duo.

Congratulations, Misty & Keri!

*Volleyball was created in 1895 by William G. Morgan at the YMCA in Holyoke, Mass., as a less-physical alternative to basketball.

*Volleyball became popular as a beach sport in the U.S. in the 1920s, playing 6-on-6. It caught on at a French nudist colony in 1927.

*The first two-man Beach Volleyball competition was held in Santa Monica, CA in 1930.

*The first tournament offering a prize was held in Los Angeles in 1948. The prize was a case of Pepsi.

*In 1978, Jose Cuervo became an official sponsor. Tournament prize monies increase as more sponsors sign on.

*The Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) was formed in 1983.

*Beach Volleyball became a “demonstration sport” in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

*Karch Kiraly & Kent Steffes won the gold medal for men’s Beach Volleyball at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

*Dain Blanton & Eric Fonoimoana won the gold medal at the 2000 Olympics in Syndey. The women’s competition was dominated by Brazil. Misty May & Holly McPeak took 5th place.

*In 2003, Misty May & Keri Walsh had a perfect season, going 39-0.

*May & Walsh take the Gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Holly McPeak & Elaine Youngs bring home the bronze.

*Misty May married Matt Treanor in November 2004. Treanor plays baseball for the Florida Marlins. She decided to hyphenate her last name, May-Treanor.

*Keri Walsh married Beach Volleyball champ Casey Jennings in December 2005. (Sigh!)

*During 2006, Keri Walsh reached the $1 million mark at age 27.

*At the end of the 2007 season, Karch Kiraly retired. He now does color commentary for AVP broadcasts.

*May-Treanor & Walsh ended a perfect year with a gold medal in the 2008 Olympics in China. Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhauser took the men's gold.

This Olympic moment was brought to you by

Official Wine of the AVP!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Wrong! Wrong! WRONG!!!

I am appalled!

I am angry!

I am at a loss for words!

This picture appeared in the Memphis Commercial Appeal this morning. Apparently members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, loaded up their vans and headed to Memphis to protest outside yesterday’s memorial tribute to music legend Isaac Hayes, being held at Hope Presbyterian Church.

What would possess a group of people – who call themselves “Christians” – to dress a 13-year-old child in a shirt that promotes their website “”, drive almost 600 miles to Memphis, and hold up signs outside a memorial service that proclaim: “God hates you!” and “You’re going to Hell!”?

Is there nothing better to do in Topeka, Kansas?

This is the same group of hate-mongerers that has protested funerals for military service people, accusing them of “dying for the homosexual and other sins of America”.

When they left Memphis, they were headed for Little Rock, to protest outside a funeral for the Arkansas Democratic Party chairman, Bill Gwatney.

So what were they protesting yesterday in Memphis? Not that a Scientologist was being memorialized in a Presbyterian church, a fact that bothered some in Memphis.

No, the Topeka group was protesting Hayes’ association with the entertainment industry, which, says the protesters, “caters to homosexuals’. Was Hayes a homosexual? Judging from his music, I seriously doubt it. But, according to them, he was guilty by association.

I have lived long enough to realize that adults can do some pretty stupid things, many times in the name of Jesus Christ. Think of hate groups like the Klu Klux Klan. Usually I can ignore such stupidity; it just makes me sad.

I am reminded of the words of Jesus: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned… with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38)

But the photograph bothers me, angers me! That’s a 13-year-old girl. Does she understand what her parents are making her do? Does she really believe God hates anyone? Has no one ever told her of the love of God?

…a love so deep that God sent His only son to die for us?
…a love that extends to her and to her parents?
…a love that embraces gays and lesbians too?
…even Isaac Hayes?

I am angry for what these people are doing to that child. It is abuse.

Again the words of Jesus: “Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:5-6)

Perhaps we could add a new song to the hymnal at Westboro Baptist Church: “There Is a Millstone Waiting For Me”.

A well-deserved millstone!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Tattoos: Part II

For several years, I have been mulling over the idea of getting a tattoo.

I’ll pause a moment to give you a chance to breathe again.

Don’t worry. I haven’t. And probably won’t.


Interestingly, a Harris Poll conducted in 2008 found that approximately 14% of all adults in America have at least one tattoo. Among 25-29 year olds it’s 32%. It is estimated that 25% of gays and lesbians have tattoos.

But I’m not one to follow the crowd – even the counter-culture crowd.

Conformity by any other name is still conformity.

No, what holds me back is the need to decide what I would ink onto my body that I would want there permanently… and where.

Like most humans, I’ve changed – frequently – throughout my 45 years of life. Once I was deeply into leatherwork. I’ve dabbled in music. In college I was big in the anti-war movement. In seminary it was the environment. Now it’s Mardi Gras and Margaritaville. I once met a woman who had a cross-and-flame tattooed on her ankle when she was ordained.


I see a lot of tattoos at my gym. Some are attractive and tend to make the person seem more interesting. A small butterfly just above a slender ankle. An armband around a well-developed tricep.

Others fall into the category of, “Oh-my-god, how-drunk-were-you-when-they-did-that-to-you?!?”

On a recent trip to California we went to Ragin’ Waters where we saw way too many of the latter category.

I’m still thinking… what would I want on my body… forever?

I recently came across a website called Check it out. It features photos of people who have had famous literary quotes tattooed onto their bodies.

High culture.

But even then, what would I choose?

--“I shall take the heart," returned the Tin Woodman; "for brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world." – L. Frank Baum

--“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” – Ernest Hemingway

--"I am Dracula, and I bid you welcome . . . " – Bram Stoker

Yes, at one point in my youth I would have chosen that one!

Or how about just a popular quote:

--“Laissez les bons temps rouler!”

--“Wrinkles will only go where the smiles have been.” (Jimmy Buffett)

--“What? Me worry?” (Alfred E. Neuman)

Again, at one point in my youth…

So, you see, I have grown cautious about these things. It’s a pretty big decision – not one to be made after too many margaritas while on Spring Break in Cancun.

Jimmy Buffett calls tattoos “a permanent reminder of a temporary feeling”. Do what you will, but that pretty much sums it up for me.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Did I miss something...?

Okay, I've been watching the Olympics off and on for the past week, but I feel like I missed something...

Did Jesus win a silver medal?

I know, I'll probably burn in Hell for that one!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

First Annual "Pass the Buck" Award

The year was 1977. Jimmy Buffett was coming off a bad year, living for a time in an alcohol-induced haze. He put pen to paper and wrote of his experiences... "Wastin' away again in Margaritaville". It became a hit.

Okay, it only reached #8 on Billboard's "Hot 100" list, but it did reach #1 on the Easy Listening charts. Yet, it has since become his "bread and butter".

While many seem to resonate with the idea of drinking to excess and "wastin' away", they miss the point. The song is about realizing and accepting responsibility for one's actions. If one follows the progression from one chorus to the next, you will hear what I am talking about.

1st time around: "Some people claim that there's a woman to blame, / but I know, it's nobody's fault."

2nd time around: "...hell, it could be my fault."

3rd time around: "'s my own damn fault."

Which brings me to my sermon for today. I think more people need to come to the realization in their lives that it just might be your own damn fault!

Unfortunately, we live in a time when we are quick to blame everyone else and refuse to take responsibility for any of our actions.

Such is the case that has moved me to create the first annual "Pass the Buck" award [looking for a better name for it, by the way]. As I was reading this week's installment of "News of the Weird", I came across what I consider to be the ultimate refusal to take responsibility for one's actions:

Shannon Hyman, now 24, filed a lawsuit in July against the Green Iguana Bar & Grill in St. Petersburg, Fla., for medical bills and lost wages when she was badly burned four years ago drinking a "flaming shot" of Bacardi 151-proof rum (which normally is consumed without incident, but Hyman had spit out the drink, spreading flames to her head and upper torso). Hyman told the Tampa Tribune: "I'm suing because I should not have been let in (because she was under 21 at the time). If I weren't let in, none of the events would have happened." [Tampa Tribune, 7-16-08]
So to Shannon Hyman of St. Petersburg, Florida, I salute you and bestow upon you my "Pass the Buck" award. May you display it with all due shame.

Wake up, girlfriend! It's your own damn fault!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Signs of the Times... no, really!

Trying to get myself back together after being gone so long, so here are some pics to give you a laugh...
(The fine print at the bottom reads, "Also, the bridge is out ahead"!)

...which is why you should always wear a helmet while riding a bicycle!

This was left over from the recent Annual Conference.

Hell and Eternal Damnation Parking to the right!

C'mon, you know it's true! We just don't advertise it!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

SCD - Wrap-Up

The 2008 School of Congregational Development is over now. I regret to say that I felt it was a big waste of time and money. For all it was, the General Board of Discipleship could have just mailed us a syllabus of books they wanted us to read.

Cheaper. Less time-consuming.

If it had not been for the near proximity of Hooters and Margaritaville, the whole trip would have been a waste.

But one good thing came out of the week, and I want to share it here.

Let me preface this by saying that one of my childhood role-models for ministry was a man called “The Bishop of Bourbon Street”. As I knew of him, he spent long hours in the bars in New Orleans, drinking with patrons, but witnessing to his faith in Jesus Christ. I decided long ago, he had it right. That’s where the church ought to be.

So I have no qualms about going into a bar. Ministry can happen there. I proved that years ago when I was the "chaplain" to the staff at Ruby Tuesday's in Paducah.

Such was the case Monday afternoon. I took a colleague to lunch at Hooters. It was his first time, and I won’t tell you his name. He was a little nervous about what his wife would think. So I’ll simply call him “Bob”.

As we ate lunch, he was easily distracted by the pretty waitresses passing by in their skimpy uniforms. It was a slow lunch hour, and our waitress, “Brooke” (her nametag said “Kira”), was very attentive. She told us all about herself. She also works at “Hard Rock Café”. She aspires to be a singer/songwriter. She even sang for us.

We talked about beer and local clubs, and before I knew it, we had been there for almost three hours. “Bob” had no complaints, still enjoying the view… trying not to look.

It was time to go, but something inside me said, “You’re not coming back; now is the time.” So, as I signed the credit card receipt, I asked Brooke if she could guess what we did for a living. She had no idea. "Bob" didn't want me to tell.

I passed her one of my business cards. She thought I was joking.

When we convinced her we really were preachers, she suddenly felt naked, exposed – she actually grabbed the front of her tank top and pulled it up to hide her cleavage.

I wondered, “Is this how the woman at the well felt when she realized Jesus was not just another man hitting on her? Naked? Exposed?”

“You mean the stuff he was saying bout ‘living water’ was not a double entendre?”

Anyway, we finally calmed Brooke down and convinced her she looked fine and we weren’t there to judge her. We had enjoyed our lunch and thanked her for being part of it.

Then, almost as though a light bulb clicked on in her head, she suddenly got serious. Her mother had died two months ago from a sudden brain aneurysm. Brooke hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye. She was angry at the medical establishment for not doing more for her mother. She was still grieving.

She wanted to know what we thought about going to a psychic to try to talk with her mother one last time. We stayed for another half hour, talking with Brooke about issues of life, death and life-beyond-death.

Why do I recount this for you? We discovered at the end of our lunch experience that Brooke was more than just a “good-time girl” in a push-up bra and tight orange shorts.

She was somebody’s daughter.

She was a child of God.

She was a young woman grieving, with no one to talk to about it.

That’s what ministry is about. I wish others from the School of Congregational Development could have been there. They might have learned something.

By the way, her real name is Brooklyn. Cute.

I’m praying for her.

Monday, August 4, 2008

SCD - Day Five

It's only mid-day, but already here are my reflections on the day... and, perhaps, on the whole 2008 School of Congregational Development.

I'm going home tomorrow.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

SCD - Day 4

Today we were sent out to "teaching churches", picked from a list that might represent or be similar to our particular ministry setting. None of the choices really matched my context, but I enjoy visiting other churches, so I chose Ocoee Oaks UMC, a combination new church start and merged congregation.

At first, I was going to wear my School of Congregational Development nametag, but at the last minute decided to be just a normal "visitor". If this was a church we were supposed to learn from, I wanted to see how they treated visitors.

Arriving with only five minutes to spare, I made up my mind that I would never come back to Ocoee Oaks UMC even before the worship service began.

Parking wasn't a problem. There was plenty. And an interesting thing about parking lots in Florida, I've noticed, is that they reduce the amount of pavement by parking cars on grassy strips. More green space, more trees.

As I walked into the church, a lone member - the designated greeter - was standing in the middle of a large lobby. He acknoweldged me, but did not come over to shake my hand.

I moved on to the door of the sanctuary, but a woman stepped in front of me and struck up a conversation with the one usher at that door. I was unable to get a worship guide or get past her. Finally, the usher, seeing me trying to pass, reached around her and slipped me a worship guide. The woman never acknoweldged my presence.

Keep in mind it was now less than 5 minutes before worship time. I found a seat in a row that was fairly empty, allowing two seats between me and the family to my left. They did not ackowledge me. Then a woman came and sat next to them; she, too, ignored me.

But here's what took the cake. A family of three appeared to my right. The woman looked across me to the woman and said, "So, you didn't save us a seat!" I offered to move down. At first, she said, no, but as they stood there trying to figure out their next move, she decided, "Yes, we want to sit next to our daughter." So I moved down the row to make room.

Sadly, she was the only one in the congregation to speak to me.

The worship service was designed to be contemporary, and it was okay for a small church. They had a three-piece band with a dozen vocalists, and a big screen with words to songs I did not know. The congregation seemed to enjoy it, but I didn't find it all that appealing.

Besides, Ocoee Oaks is not supposed to be a small church.

The history of the church is interesting. The conference bought the land in 1988, with the hopes of combining four nearby churches into one "regional" church. None of them cooperated. So the conference gave the property over for a new church start.

In 1995, Rev. Ernie Post was sent to start a new church on this property. Right off I noted he was a "fish out of water" - wearing the obligatory casual "Hawaiian Shirt" with dress slacks and black dress shoes. Turns out he was originally a pastor in Pennsylvania, but due to his wife's health, they needed to relocate to a warmer climate. He wrote up a proposal to be a new-church-start pastor and sent it to four different conferences. Florida called him to start West Oaks UMC, with hopes of creating a 3,000 t0 5,000 member congregation. Ernie's initial success jumped from 50-250 in the first 6 years.

But the city of Ocoee had other designs for the property, and although West Oaks had the cash in hand, the city dragged out the approval process for two years and added $400,000 worth of "necessary" improvements, which shut down the project.
When that was announced, eight of the top ten givers left the church.

In 2001, Ocoee UMC, a dying downtown congregation, proposed a merger. Ocoee was established in 1880, just 30 years after the first settlers came to the area. In the 1920s, race riots erupted and most blacks fled to Apopka; even 90 years later, few are willing to live or worship in Ocoee.

By August the merger was done and the church became known as Ocoee Oaks. Worship was initially held at the Ocoee Church building, which led to the departure of most of West Oaks' black members. The congregation continued to pursue building on the new site and in October of 2004, the held their first worship service in the new sanctuary.

At present, the congregation hasn't realized the dream of the conference. They offer three worship services (Sundays 8:30 a.m. traditional, Sundays 11 a.m. contemporary, Mondays 7 p.m. contemporary), but only draw 100-150 in each service... far from the 5,000 member congregation they are supposed to be. And for the last three years, growth has been flat.

But they keep that vision in mind. This morning they approved a $1 million building project to construct a pre-school. Neighborhood surveys indicate the need.

It was an interesting visit, but as I said above, I wouldn't go back. Which should be a wake-up call for all our congregations. Most visitors make up their minds about a church within the first 10 minutes of leaving their vehicles.

You say you're a friendly church. Are you really?

Or do you just greet your friends?

Would I feel welcome at your church... enough to come back a second time?

Just for comparison, I've been to Margaritaville three times this week. Hmmmm... what does that say?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

SCD - Day #3

Today is the third day of the School of Congregational Development in Orlando (and in Grand Rapids). I wasn't expecting much, and perhaps others expressed that, too, by not showing up. I took my camera with me, planning to just write about how pretty the St. Luke Church is.

I don't know if it was because it was only a half-day, or if it was actually a little better today, but I felt like today's two sessions were worth attending.

I even took notes!

The plenary speaker was Carol Howard Merritt, Presbyterian clergy and author of "The Tribal Church". Although she wasn't as animated as previous speakers, and didn't use the first video clip, I felt she gave us a little "meat".

Carol spoke of the fragmentation of society, how the generations are growing farther and farther apart. But the one place left where intergenerational groups are encouraged is Church. Thus, she likens the Church to a tribe, "an intergenerational group of people who walk together on their spiritual journey".

Unfortunately, as we are all aware, young people today must uproot themselves from their families and communities in order to find jobs that are usually not long-term, and provide no benefits. So there is a pervasive sense of insecurity among young people today.

Uprooted and alone, many are longing for a place to call home, which the church should be. But we still structure our churches for the virtually non-existent "nuclear family" -- Ward, June, Wally... "and Jerry Mathers as The Beaver".

Well, today, Ward is still working, June has taken a full-time job outside the home, Wally took a job when he got his driver's license, and "The Beaver" is a latch-key kid.

One implication of this scenario is that there are few women left to support "the work of the church" -- the mid-week Bible study, the UMW, even pot luck dinners. They just don't have time for all that anymore. Many of our traditions are dying...

...and it's about damn time!

Unfortunately, as I said, the nuclear family is nearly non-existent today. So, a more likely scenario is that a single, working female arrives at your church. What can you offer her -- besides condemnation for not being married and for not having a brood of children to fill the Sunday School classes?

"Why, honey, at you're age, you'll never find a man!"

According to Carol Howard Merritt, what she needs is someone to affirm her worth; she needs a community with which to identify; she needs meaningful relationships that will direct her to a relationship with Jesus.

Carol said in the Washington D.C. area, young people are organizing "snuggle parties" -- platonic relationships with strangers in order to break the isolation and to "feel" a part of something.

And she told a funny:

GUY #1: "Hey, Bob, where are you rushing off to?"

GUY #2: "Um, I'm, um, going to church."

GUY #1: "What? I thought you were an agnostic."

GUY #2: "Actually, I am an atheist... but I'm lonely as heck!"

She ended (finally) with this thought: Generation X has proved to be the most innovative generation ever, but not very church-oriented. Generation Y is more institutional-minded, and even larger than the Baby Boom generation. So what if we empower Gen X'ers to figure out how to reach Gen Y?!

Deep thoughts.

The other workshop I attended was led by Craig Kennett Miller. If you want to know what he said, read his book, "NextChurch.Now". It's good stuff.

As for the rest of the day, I just wasted it... in Margaritaville!

Friday, August 1, 2008

SCD - Day Two

Day two of the School of Congregational Development has ended and here's how it's going in Orlando at this point.

The morning started off with a satellite feed from Grand Rapids, MI, in which we experienced Mark Beeson, pastor of Granger Community Church in South Bend, Indiana. If nothing else, you have to admit he was entertaining. He was something of a cross between a stand-up comedian and an Amway salesman!

To be honest, the man got to Starbuck's way too early this morning!

Given the topic "Innovate or Die", Mark spoke for nearly two hours but only hit a couple pages of the 13-page outline he handed out. With the use of humor and video illustrations, he over-dramatized the plight of the church, especially how "those over 30" are SOOOOO out of touch with those under 30. Tell me something I don't know!

But hey, Pastor Beeson, I recognized the video clip from "Napoleon Dynamite!"... I just didn't recognize that it was your face that your tech guys had plastered over his dancing figure!

What did I learn from Pastor Beeson? If you've got enough money and enough creative talent on your staff, you can do anything!

I moved from there to a seminar titled, "Innovation in Worship". Bad choice. The Creative Arts director of St. Luke's (our host church) led this uninspired seminar on creative process. We were halfway through his tedious presentation before I realized the subtle difference between the words "innovation" and "innovations".

The next seminar I attended was led by Claudia Lavy. Her partner in ministry, Dan Glover (both products of Ginghamsburg Church), is teaching the same seminar at Grand Rapids, "Creating a Discipleship System". The information was helpful -- although it is all found in their book "Deepening Your Effectiveness".

And it was literally word-for-word the same presentation they did three years ago when the SCD was held at Ginghamsburg, OH.

we ended the afternoon back in our Ministry Track groups -- mine being "Turning Around Existing Churches". Our leaders wanted to make sure they were covering what we wanted to hear, so they set aside their notes and took questions from the floor.

C'mon, guys, it's just the second day!!!

That took up most of the two-hour time frame. Then they broke us up into small groups to discuss designated questions, but our group was full of "whiners" who refused to stick to the task and who filled the alotted time complaining that "nothing's working" at their churches.

Kinda makes you wonder why their churches are failing, eh?

Fortunately, that was the end for Friday. We were free to spend the rest of the evening "on the town".

So I headed to Margaritaville. (Yes, that's me in the photo above standing in front of Jimmy's sea plane, Hemisphere Dancer!)

Havin' a great time... wish you were here!