Monday, April 28, 2008

The Power Ranger Bible

Okay, I need to explain that quite a bit. There is not a Power Ranger Bible. But there is a new line of Bibles that are related to the Power Rangers.

Let's go back a few years. A guy named Walt Disney really changed the way the world looked at cartoons. From Mickey Mouse to Snow White, animated art became a major cultural machine. In Japan, Osamu Tezuka was influenced by Disney and brought those techniques, with a uniquely Japanese flavor, to Japanese reading audiences. This art form, called manga, became a huge cultural medium and remains so today. Manga is also more than just comic strips. They are visual storytelling. This form of story telling easily translated to animated medium. "Cartoons" based on manga art form, called anime, began to be popular in the 1970's. Some of those shows were shown in the U.S. and gained a following here. One of the earliest that I remember was Battle of the Planets. There was also Voltron, Defender of the Universe. This show in particular influenced what would become the Power Rangers.

So the history line looks like this:

Drawn art = manga
Animated art = anime
Live action = Power Ranger

Now to the Bible that is related to Power Rangers. I was in Cokesbury a few weeks back and picked up The Manga Bible. Manga, while mainstream in Japan, is only just a niche market in the U.S. But it is a growing market. Publishers realize this now. If you go into a Barnes and Noble you will find a huge section of manga. The Christian publishing market has picked up this trend. Brian, at Cokesbury, filled me in that there are going to be even more manga (and possibly anime?) Christian resources coming out.

So what is the difference and why does it matter? First of all, the art work is more mature than that of the more traditional picture Bibles. Meaning that this is not intended for children. This is aimed at the teenage and young adult market. It is grittier, darker, and sometimes harsh. But that is one aspect of manga style. It can evoke that feel. But it doesn't diminish the story.

Second is that this is not a complete rendering of scripture. This is a narrative or story driven form. We all love story over ideas. This Bible takes the story of the Bible and puts it into picture form. It uses that narrative of God's revelation and portrays it in picture.

Third this exposes more people to the Gospel. It may not be a perfect medium. But there is no perfect medium to convey the fullness of God's story to us.

Last. It's just cool.

This is not for everyone, though. This is not a Sunday School Bible. I won't be preaching from it or using it for children's messages. This is a reading Bible. But it does a fair job of conveying the story into parts of our culture that may never encounter the Gospel in another fashion.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Gospel According to the Superfriends

I was perusing the local Cokesbury store yesterday. And if you read the last blog then let me reassure you that I did NOT buy any new books. But in wandering up and down the aisles I saw a couple of new titles that just struck a dissonant chord with me. For some strange reason, the "Gospel According to..." are popping up all the time. I had a copy of the "Gospel According to Peanuts" from a few years back (it went into the pile). There are perspectives on the Gospel from Harry Potter, Star Wars (which really confuzzles me), and Science Fiction available.

Well this morning I queued up my son Andrew's favorite series: The Superfriends.


Yep, the 1970's/1980's television depiction of the Justice League: Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Robin, Aquaman, and the Wonder Twins. Andrew likes the later shows with some of the other DC heroes (his current favorites are Green Lantern and Firestorm). Fortunately Cartoon Network's Boomerang Channel provides plenty of shows for him to watch.

But I was pondering the nature of the stories and something struck me. The entire concept of the Justice League/Superfriends is based on responsible grace. The villains, while portrayed as evil (the meet together in the Hall of Evil and declare themselves as such), do not seem totally depraved. They show moments of conscience. While they proclaim a desire for the "total annihilation" or "destruction" of the Superfriends, they provide plenty of opportunities for the Superfriends to escape. Clearly they are showing the marks of prevenient grace.

The Superfriends constantly face the same hijinks of the villains with the same commitment to the hope that they will change. But they don't just leave them to do the evil that they want to do. The Superfriends are there to remind them, without acting judgmental about it, that there is a right way. I mean, really think about this. Between Superman, who is clearly a god-like being (as he is written in the Superfriends), and Green Lantern, who can do just about anything with his power ring, could just haul the whole lot of the Hall of Evil out into space and throw them into the sun (get it: outer darkness, unquenchable flame). But the Superfriends do not judge the villains nor do they punish them. Instead they are constantly present to remind them of the good that ought to be done.

I jest, of course, but not really. Any "Gospel According to..." approach is always going to fall short in certain aspects. And it will always be up to the person interpreting. But we use these illustrations to make contact points with people. There is no harm, really. Jesus did something similar with parable teaching. He used the cultural references of the people he spoke with to get to the point. So we, too, can speak the word of the Gospel using the words of culture.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cast into eternal piles and pilenation

One of the downsides of moving is, well, moving. Lisa and I have spent some wonderful quality time packing boxes of, ahem, "treasured mementos". As I sit in my office, I am faced with the overwhelming task of packing books. Lots of books. Multiple bookcases of books.

And the only comfort I have is in knowing that other ministers are faced with the same task.

As I was hitting my morning blog rounds, I stumbled across this blog post via lifehacker.com.

Bringing Your Bookshelves Back to Order

There are some great tips about going through your bookcase and determining what to keep and what to discard. I just had a conversation with Lisa about gleaning the bookcases. I have already made one pass on books I know that I don't want or need anymore. But I knew that there is a second pass that needs to happen.

And this one will be a little more painful. It's funny what we get attached to over time. I have books that I really don't have any need for (old college textbooks that don't relate to my current vocation) that I really can't bear the thought of parting with. I also have books that I justify, "Yeah, I may run into a situation where that information may come in handy." But I know that that really isn't the case.

So I am going to be giving my book collection a second pass through. By applying what the writer to the blog mentioned and by asking myself the hard question of "need", I will be whittling down the number of boxes I will need for my library.

If you want to come by and take a look at what is available, feel free. They need a good home.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

My name is Todd and I'm a white male.

We observed MLK day last week. Has this made everyone racial sensitive?

This is what I saw first thing this morning as I went through my morning hot sheets:

United Methodist News Service:
Commentary: An invitation to evangelical white males

A UMNS Commentary
By Bill Mefford*
April 9, 2008


Bill Mefford
A few months ago, I attended a conference in Memphis, Tenn., where a Texas judge, who identified himself as a white, evangelical male, made a remarkable statement. He called himself "the most discriminated-against person on the face of this earth!"


United Methodist video examines ‘white privilege’

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
April 9, 2008

In a church fellowship hall, a long line of people are beginning to realize that many of them live with "an invisible, unearned advantage" based on the color of their skin.

They listen and respond as the Rev. Marion Miller, pastor at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, reads a list of commands in an exercise on “white privilege” in the United States.

"If you should need to move," she asks, "can you be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area you can afford and in which you would want to live? If this is true, take one step forward."

"If you can go shopping alone most of the time pretty well assured you will not be followed or harassed, take another step forward."

"If you can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of your race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with your cultural traditions, into a hairdresser's shop and find someone who can cut your hair, take three steps forward."

By the end of the exercise, all of the white participants are steps ahead of the people of color in the line.

"Sensitizing white people to an invisible system of advantage is a healthy beginning in the journey," said Blenda Smith, conference lay leader of the Wyoming Annual (regional) Conference and a white board member of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.


Glenn Beck show highlights from yesterday:

Glenn Beck: Obama's spiritual woes continue


Obama Delegate Resigns After Remark

Apr 8, 3:14 PM (ET)

CARPENTERSVILLE, Ill. (AP) - An Illinois delegate for Democratic Sen. Barack Obama resigned after using the word "monkeys" to describe black children playing in a tree, the Obama campaign said Tuesday.

Linda Ramirez-Sliwinski, a trustee in the Chicago suburb of Carpentersville, was issued a $75 ticket for disorderly conduct after neighbors complained to police. She says the word wasn't meant racially and she will fight the ticket.

"Given the incident, Linda Ramirez-Sliwinski is stepping down as a delegate and will be replaced," said Obama spokeswoman Amy Brundage.

The incident occurred Saturday, when two children were playing in a tree next door to Ramirez-Sliwinski's house.

She said the parents were outside supervising the children, but she went over and told them to get out of the tree because she was concerned about the boys' safety and because the small magnolia tree was being damaged.

The father of one of the boys told her it was none of her business, she told the Chicago Tribune, and "I calmly said the tree is not there for them to be climbing in there like monkeys."

The mother of one boy called police.

Cmdr. Michael Kilbourne said Tuesday a ticket was issued because the ordinance bans conduct that disturbs or alarms people. One of the boys told police he was scared by her comment and a mother said she was disturbed, he said.

Ramirez-Sliwinski does not have a listed telephone number. She did not respond immediately to an e-mail.

Ramirez-Sliwinski says she doesn't plan to run for another term on the village board. "In the eyes of the public, this is wrong," she told the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.

I am the first to admit that I grew up in an area where it was not just predominantly white, it was well known for racist history (and rumored racist present). But my mother made it very clear that people were people. Black, Asian, Hispanic, it didn't matter what their skin color, they were people deserving of respect. Unless they were chronically stupid. But skin color doesn't predetermine chronically stupid. So maybe I'm not racially sensitive enough.

But I am tired of being told I'm not sensitive or that I'm ignorant of people who are different. I am tired of being held to account for something that I have never stood for in my life and have spoken against from the depths of my being. I am tired of differences forcing people to choose sides and allow those differences to keep people from finding the common ground of fellowship.

I'm not stupid. I know that there are biases written into the code of culture. I know that communities and neighborhoods of color are not treated equally. I just rode along with my friend who is a Tulsa police officer. We got into a conversation about the difference in the culture we had been raised in and the vast disparity of the neighborhoods he has to patrol. And, yes, some of those neighborhoods are communities of color.

We responded to a call to an apartment complex. It was a low-rent area. It wasn't mostly any one color. It was a mixture of people who were at what can be considered the bottom end of the economic spectrum. And just 2 blocks away was one of the wealthiest private colleges west of the Mississippi. That is disparity. And the people who lived in those apartments and somewhat rundown houses are not treated equally as those college students with their indoor tennis courts and the college basketball tournament.

But we are not moving this nation forward. WE, as a nation, are sitting in a stewing pot of division and judgmentalism. We bunker down with our own kind and point to the differences of the people around us. We point at the political opponents and claim it is their fault we are in the global situation we are in. We look at those of different ideologies and blame them for the degradation of society. We strike out to make our point and defend our position. We rally ourselves to do battle in a cultural war without every really discovering who our enemy is. Sun Tzu, the great military tactician said:
Know the enemy and know yourself;
And fear not the result of a hundred battles.
If you know but one or the other,
For every victory you will suffer a defeat.
If you know neither,
You will succumb in every battle.
But we would rather remain ignorant and strike out in emotion and righteous opinion.

What would it hurt to live one day in this nation without supposing that someone was your enemy? What would it hurt to assume for one minute that people are people and just alike? That we all hurt and rejoice? That we all have weaknesses and failure, but that we also have strengths and victories? Would it do so much harm to our way of life if we could consider for one day that all people were created equal in the sight of God?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Abuse or devotion? Brainwashing or lifestyle?

One of the top news stories of the last 24 hours has been the raid on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints property in Texas. The raid by authorities was prompted by an anonymous phone call from a caller identifying herself as a 16 year old who had been married when she was 15, had a child, and had been abused. The authorities removed women and children from the compound while detaining male members of the organization at the compound. The authorities still have not been able to identify the girl who made the initial phone call.

I do not know the whole story of this situation. But as I watch the reaction to this group, I'm getting a little edgy.

There is a lot of use of the words abuse and brainwashing. And all of this is coming from people outside of the organization. Those outside of the group have a different standard, a different world view, than those inside the group. Perhaps I am worried how far the definitions of abuse and brainwashing will be applied to other organizations. For example the Amish or even Christianity. And if you think that I'm being paranoid, then I should tell you that these words have already been applied to evangelical Christians.

'Jesus Camp' and the art of brainwashing
A Soldier Speaks
Brainwashing With Religion
The Future Was Yesterday: Evangelical Christians

I believe most people do not understand what "evangelical" means. Evangelical is rooted in the Greek word that would be read as euangel. It is the Greek word for the good news. In the New Testament, it is the testimony of Jesus Christ. The literal understanding of an evangelical would be anyone who believes that Jesus Christ offers hope to the world through his life, death, and resurrection. Evangelical can be expanded to include anyone who basis their beliefs on an understanding of the scriptures, or the revelation of the good news of Jesus Christ. George Barna, who's Barna group provides research data, defines evangelical this way:
“Evangelicals" meet the born again criteria plus seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent upon church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church they attend. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as "evangelical."

But Evangelical has come to be used to describe any Christian perspective that is opposed to the vague definition of tolerance, the culture of religious pluralism, and the requirement to adhere to a set of standards defined by self. In truth fundamentalists who completely disagree with most of traditional Christianity, militant minorities who rebel against the majority of traditional standards, and break away sects who want to distance themselves from "watered down" modern beliefs are lumped together with average men and women who have no higher goal than to live a simple life in relationship with God through a belief in Jesus Christ. But the modern climate says that they are politically motivated, mental abusers who want to control and dominate everyone's life.

As an evangelical, I'm a little worried about how my freedoms and my beliefs are respected. My family is not outrageously fundamentalist. But when will someone say that, because my child has a personal belief in Jesus Christ, that I have brainwashed him? I view it as the lifestyle of my family. I raise my children in the manner of our choice. They are surrounded by love and care. They are provided the best and safest environment that we can afford. They have the opportunity to grow and develop.

But if culture gets around to accepting the growing rhetoric of anti-evangelicalism based on a faulty definition of the word, then our way of life will be under scrutiny. And the way we live out our faith could become a chargeable offense.

If you believe in the word of God, if you accept the good news of who Jesus Christ is, and if you desire to live a peaceful life to the best of your ability, then take up the challenge of explaining what it is you believe.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Frequently Asked (and Unasked) Questions of Your New Pastor

A week ago, I got the call that informed me that I will be appointed to a new church. My family will be moving to the Panhandle of Oklahoma. I will be serving the Turpin and Baker UMChurches. Lisa and I are excited about the possibilities. But moving into a new setting always brings questions. So, for anyone from the new churches who may end up reading this, here are some of the answers you will be wanting to know.

What do we call you? Pastor, preacher, brother, Hey You?
What you call a pastor depends on your background and tradition. I don’t expect anyone to call me anything specific. But here are some helpful guidelines:
• Reverend is a formal title best used for official address and invitations or business letters
• Pastor is what I do and my relationship to the church. It is fine for people to call me Pastor Todd. Or even just Pastor.
• Preacher is also what I do. I don’t mind people calling me Preacher.
• “Hey, you” is perfectly fine until you get to know me.
• Above all else, Todd works just as well. It’s the name my Momma gave me and I’m pretty attached to it.

Are you going to change things?
The simple answer is yes. My coming to be your pastor is about change. I am nothing like your leaving pastor. He and I will do things differently. So there will be some changes because of that.

I will not, however, make any drastic changes. And until we get to know each other better I will not institute changes to things that are familiar. We have plenty of time for something like that. The only exception might be the carpet. Just kidding.

Are you going to visit people?
Growing up, my Momma always taught my sister and me that we should never invite ourselves over to people’s houses. That is a rule I still live by. I will be glad to visit with you. But I will not come to visit you unless I have an invitation. You have to ask me to come visit you. This way you can pick a time that is best for you. If my schedule allows it, I will be glad to visit.

When it comes to hospital visits, that is something else. I will gladly come and pray for you before a procedure, if that is what you want. If I come, I usually stay until the procedure is over and the attending doctor reports. But again, you have to request that. And you have to let me know when and where. Hospitals are cracking down on information they will release. It is law that they cannot release certain information. If you are going in, and you want a visit, please inform me in advance.

How can I get in touch with you?
You are welcome to contact me whenever you need to. I may not be able to physically get to see you at the moment but at least contact me. Providing I can get internet set up quickly, the best way to reach me is in this order: email, instant message, office phone, cell phone, home phone.

Will your wife be/do ___(fill in the blank)______?
I know that some churches have expectations of the preacher’s wife. My wife is her own person with her own gifts, talents, and interests. If you would like to ask her to do something, she will be glad to consider it. But she is not appointed to the church, I am. Please don’t expect her to do something without sitting down and talking with her.

Will you be at various events?
Personal family time is very important to us. We like to spend time with one another and do things together as a family. If there are events that we can come to as a family, we will be there. But we also like to enjoy quiet time together. So we most likely will not be a every event.

If there is something special you would like me to be involved with, please come and talk to me. I failed two classes in seminary. One of them was Mind Reading. I don’t know what you want or expect. But if you come talk to me, then we will come to a better understanding of each other.

What do you like?

Favorite food: Bar-b-que ribs
Favorite drink: Due to health reasons, decaffeinated coffee with milk and sugar (yes I like a little coffee with my milk) or a big glass of sweet tea.
Favorite music: I enjoy a lot of different styles of music and depending on my mood, I will listen to different things. I do not typically listen to a lot of secular music (country or rock) but I am not opposed to them.
Favorite movie: Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium; The Princess Bride; Independence Day; One Crazy Summer
Favorite television show: right now, Doctor Who; I like almost all science-fiction shows
Heroes: Walt Disney, Spiderman, Dave Ramsey, my mother, John Wesley
Favorite sport: I don’t care much for sports but I like hockey most of all
Favorite snack food: beef jerky and gummy bears (not together)

Where do you come from?

I was born into an Air Force family. I was born December 29, 1970 outside of San Bernardino, California. We moved to the Philippines and Wichita, Kansas. When I was about 10 we moved to a little town in southeastern Oklahoma.

I attended college at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma. I have a degree in History with Russian and Soviet studies and Sociology as my minor. I attended seminary at Asbury Theological in Wilmore, Kentucky.

I have served churches in Alva, Leedey, and Claremore. I have been in the ministry since May of 1998.

Liberal/Conservative?

I am more conservative than liberal. Politically and theologically I fall more to the right. And am moving more to the right the older I get. I believe that there are things to be learned from both sides, though. I respect a person’s point of view and expect the same respect in return. And I don’t mind a healthy argument.

OU/OSU?
I bleed black and orange – the colors of East Central University Tigers. I don’t root for either against the other. Nick is an OSU fan, though.

What do you do in your off time?
First of all, let me state that until I have adapted to the new way of life, I will maintain my previous schedule. Friday and Saturday are my days off. If there is an emergency, I will handle it. But I protect those days. They are days for my family and my own mental health. Sunday through Thursday are business days. And, except for meetings, anything after 8:00 is time off. You can call until, usually, 10:00 in the evening.

Now, what do I do with my time off? Not a lot. I’m not much of an outdoorsman, although I do like to go fishing now and then. I don’t play golf. But mostly that’s because I never learned how. My main source of recreation is computer centered. I play computer games. I surf the web. I blog. I work on computers. That’s what I do.

I also like to read. I am currently exploring writing a book. I play guitar. I read and collect comic books. I love the Nintendo Wii and PlayStation 2. I have 2 boys who love to wrestle. And I work with my boys in Cub Scouts. I like to cook and grill out. I make a mean homemade pizza.

My favorite vacation destination is Walt Disney World in Florida. When I grow up, I want to work there.

What do I do when you make me mad?

I will make this promise: I will make every effort to not intentionally hurt your feelings, offend you, or hurt you in any way. But realize this: I am human. I make mistakes. If you have gotten this far in this than I may have already made you mad or offended you. If that is the case, I want to do what I can to mend the relationship.

If I have said or done something that offended you, tell me about it. Call me, email me, come by the office or house. But tell me that I’ve hurt you. If you don’t feel comfortable coming alone, then bring a friend or two that you can draw strength from. If you can’t face me or speak directly to it, then ask a third person to come to me, in your name, and tell me about it. I will then come to you and try to find a way to restore the relationship.

I should also say that I do not honor anonymous information. If you send me a letter without a name, I will read it, but I cannot do anything to respond to it. If you come to me and say, “Some people…” or, “I can’t tell you who…”, I will listen to the complaint, but I will not respect this as honest communication.

I know no one likes conflict. But let me say that the pattern that I have stated above works. In fact, it is a modified version of the way Jesus recommends how to handle offense among Christians. I believe that the only holy and right solution to conflict among believers is speaking to one another in love about the things that hurt us. Offense can, and does, destroy churches. So if I have offended, I want to heal the wound in order to save the church.

What is something we must absolutely know about you?

I study personality types. I put a lot of stock in how personality guides actions and effects relationships. You have to absolutely know what my personality type is.

I am an introvert. That means that I have to retreat into seclusion to recharge my mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual batteries. It does not mean that I am not a people person. I love to be around people. I love chatting and socializing. But in order to function in that way, I have to have some cave time. That means I have to hide in my cave until I’m recharged. A great example of this is Sunday afternoons. After two services, I’m wiped out by Sunday afternoon. I do not like to schedule a lot of activity in the afternoon on that day. It doesn’t mean I won’t do something. It just means I prefer to do little.

I am a thinker. I operate in a realm of ideas and possibilities. I see things in my mind and wish they could be reality. I’m not a dreamer, per se. But theory and ideas are my playground. I work out problems in my head.

I’m an analyzer. I sit back and take information in before I make a choice. I research and gather data before making a decision. I weigh the matter out in logical terms. If I’m not speaking, then I’m listening. I will speak when the opportunity is right or when I have something to say.

You may perceive me as being arrogant or anti-social. I am a self-avowed weird person. It may appear that I don’t have any emotions or that I’m overly critical. The truth is that my personality is such that, to many people, yes that is exactly what I am. But please understand that I am not being rude. I may have my head wrapped around something or I am on my way to an objective. It doesn’t mean I’m a snob or I don’t like you. I’m just focused. I may seem arrogant. But the self-awareness and confidence I possess helps me survive in the settings I find myself in. I do have emotions. I just don’t swing between emotions. I don’t get overly emotional in happy or sad ways.

But that is me in a nutshell. Or I’m a nut without a shell. I’ll let you decide.