A Wee Blether updated, RSS change, please read…

25 Jul

I’m still blogging, but all posts after July 2010 are found here: A Wee Blether at http://adamjcopeland.com.

 

Change is afoot at A Wee Blether. I’ll explain below, but the point of the explanation is this: if you’re getting this post in a RSS reader, chances are you need to update/change the feed.  I’m still blogging, but this site will not be updated further.  

For a few years, I have had the site http://adamjcopeland.com, so this change shouldn’t bother too many people.

But, I’ve moved the site to wordpress.org from wordpress.com.  For most of you, this matters not.  But, for those of you who subscribed way back in the day to http://adamcopeland.wordpress.com before I bought http://adamjcopeland.com, you will now have a dead feed.  (Or if you bookmarked the old site, you need to change your bookmark.)

So, just go, right now to your RSS reader and confirm the http://adamjcopeland.com (or, more simply, the reader feed is http://adamjcopeland.com/feed )

If you’re totally lost as to what an RSS Reader is, watch the video below.  If you don’t read blogs with a reader, I recommend seriously considering one.  Wait…what are you doing.  Stop thinking.  Go, NOW, and make sure your feed is correct.  (And, thank you all for reading!)

Under construction: you may be lost

23 Jul

If you’re reading this now, well, you shouldn’t be.  All my posts are now at http://adamjcopeland.com. Please mosey on over there for updated posts, comments, and all that good stuff.

One Hundred Sermons

22 Jul

A few weeks ago, thankfully without any fanfare, I preached my 100th sermon. I know this number not because I carefully keep track, but because there are 100 files in my computer’s “Sermon” folder. Many of you more seasoned pastors might scoff at a piddly number like 100, but I’m guessing that, of those who graduated from Columbia Seminary with me in 2009, I’m one of the fastest to reach 100. Many others, even most, won’t get there for years. Why?

Many of my seminary classmates are serving as associate pastors at larger churches. In such a position one gains valuable experience by learning from the other pastors on staff. But another perk — or problem, depending on your perspective — is that many associate pastors preach rather seldom. I have friends who preach once a month, others preach once every six weeks, and even a few preach only once every few months. As it would happen, several of the classmates I consider the most skilled pastors in my class, preach only ten or so times a year. I think that’s a crying shame, but their supervisors didn’t ask me.

As I studied for my M.Div. I took a yearlong internship in Scotland, where I preached a bunch. I’m now a solo pastor and preach pretty much every Sunday.

That sais, here’s the top ten things I learned after preaching 100 sermons (pretend the numbering is backwards from 10 to 1,even  though it isn’t due to formatting oddities) :

  1. Context. Context. Context.
  2. I really like preaching from the Old Testament.
  3. I really dislike preaching from both the Old Testament and New Testament in one sermon (or, really, any two texts).
  4. I wish I used my Biblical language skills more, but I don’t.
  5. 1500-1800 words is usually about right.
  6. I preach much better with a manuscript than with an outline (though, yes, many people are the opposite).
  7. I’ve fallen into using about three sermon forms fairly regularly. For this congregation, I think my lack of creativity actually helps many hear the word.
  8. Pretty much every manuscript, at some point has a line like, “looking deeper, there’s a more complex and challenging interpretation.” (Though I often cut it out of the draft.)
  9. The size of the space in which I’m preaching, and number of people attending worship, really affects the rhetoric I use.
  10. Context. Context. Context.

Ok, preachers out there. What have you learned or been struck by in your last 100 sermons?

image by Simon Cataudo

In Defense of Twitter

19 Jul

Let’s call it “Twitterphobia.”  Several times a week, in my usual perusal of weekly magazines, op-ed pieces, and current event commentary I run into a well-respected and well-researched writer bemoaning Twitter. “Twitter is dumbing down our teenagers,” they say. “Twitter is besieging our English majors.” “Twitter is poisoning our minds and starving us of the few intellectual merits we still have.”

Nice try, but Twitter ain’t the issue folks. In fact, I think Twitter and its 140-character messages is causing a flippin’ amazing surge in creative thinking. Let me explain.

  1. Though some say 140 characters is a too short to say much of anything, I say the 140 character limit Twitter employs actually pushes us to write with precision, creativity, and pizzazz. Who knows, maybe its just the the fact that there’s a limit at all causes anyone with tenure to freak out over a perceived threat to intellectual freedom.  Mark Twain once apologized to an editor when sending in a new essay, “I’m sorry I didn’t have time to make this shorter.” Brevity is not the enemy.  Sometimes the attacks feel like a group of poets worrying long form poetry is at risk, but instead of writing good long form poetry they lash out against haikus.  I say simply: brevity is beautiful.
  2. Sure, Twitter isn’t a platform for drawn-out arguments laced with careful caveats, but it’s not trying to be. What Twitter can do – really well, in fact – is point people in the direction of just that sort of work. Every day, I click on Internet links recommended by those I follow on Twitter and arrive at fantastic articles, sometimes very long, which I often then recommend to my followers on Twitter as well. In fact, the New York Times and Slate recently reported that some of their most-read articles over the past few years have been their longest. Twitter isn’t killing long-form journalism, rather, it might be resuscitating it after all.
  3. It’s about connections, people, and not in the way your grandparents connected. I’m not an Internet culture guru, but I know this much: Twitter connects people in significant ways that can affect us in really powerful ways. Yes, the online community connects us in different ways than the café downtown, but let’s remember: different is not always bad, it’s just different. I get book recommendations from Twitter, celebrate Birthdays on Twitter, hear about the best new microbrews on Twitter, am tipped to breaking news on Twitter, and receive real meaningful support from friends I know well and friends I’ve never met on Twitter. To claim this sort of community is somehow less significant or less meaningful because of the platform is akin to saying every partnered couple that first met in a bar now emphasizes alcohol over each other.

So sure, technophobes and Twitter-ists, keep the punches coming. Yes, Twitter isn’t perfect, but neither is your prose. So, please, at least make your attacks informed. In fact, make them good and clear enough to be summarized in a punchy headline, disseminated on Twitter, and affect the hundreds of helpful connections I’ve made on Twitter.

Sermon: Uncomfortable Amos

18 Jul

First Presbyterian Church Hallock, Minn.

July 18, 2010

Uncomfortable Amos

Amos 8:1-12

I recently commiserated with a friend over a challenging experience we shared from our childhoods. I don’t remember quite how it came up, but somehow this friend and I got to talking about holidays, and specifically holiday meals. Maybe it was July 4th that brought it to mind, but when we started sharing about the big holidays growing up — Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter — we both said we looked forward to the tasty meals and good company. (But, that’s nothing special.) What did stick out, for both of us, was an experience of not quite being sure about a certain dinner guest.

You see, this friend and I grew up in household that invited, well, outsiders to holiday meals sometimes. Continue reading

Non-church miscellany

15 Jul

This post is not about General Assembly. Neither is it about Presbyterians, or even Christianity. Thank you, blog readers, for sticking with me through some heavy PC(USA) polity and politics. Instead, this post is about three things (which, I promise, has nothing at all to do with the fact that some sermons have three points.)

1. Living in Grand Forks, North Dakota has its perks — no, really, it does. For example, for eight months out of the year you don’t have to worry about ice cream melting in your trunk on the way home from the grocery store. Actually, in seriousness, I’ve found another.

I receiving a parking ticket a few weeks ago for parking on the street outside our apartment on day the city does road cleaning. Having lived there for a year and unaware of the Monday no parking policy, I called the city to complain. Before I could get an angry word out, the nice guy I spoke to said, “Well, we’ll be happy to forgive your ticket. As a courtesy, the city council has a policy to forgive any questionable first time tickets, so let’s get this erased.” And in about a minute, we did.

2. You big city folks will not believe this next story. Yesterday I was working at the church in Hallock, Minn. and made a phone call. On accident, though, I switched the numbers and ended up calling the wrong house. About the same time I realized my mistake, I also realized I in fact knew the person at the wrong number. So we chatted for a while and actually set up a visit for the next day. Only in a small town do you have a five minute conversation with someone at a wrong number, then plan to get together the next day.

3. I’ve been playing in the Men’s Golf League in Hallock this summer — quite enjoyable. It’s an enormous contrast to my time playing two years ago in Scotland, most often on courses requiring fancy dress codes expecting the utmost manners possible. Let’s just say, the Hallock league is a nice breath of fresh air and I welcome the fact that, more often than not, folks are talking during my drives and wearing jeans and T-shirts. I’m loving it.

No matter what you wear or how fancy your clubs, golf is a game of leveling. When you’re looking over a three foot putt, you either make it or you don’t, and whether your shirt is tucked in or belts a “golf belt” doesn’t matter one bit.  If for some reason you boast in your game, you’ve got to prove it week in week out.

Ok, that is all.  No promises re the topic of the next post, but, probably just like you, I’m contemplating a break from Presbytery polity.  I promise not to write on the weather, though…but now that I think of it, it is absolutely beautiful out there today :)

image by Henrique Kwong

GA BLOG: Wrap Up & Pack Up

10 Jul

(This post will go up soon on The Outlook website, but I’m traveling so can’t link there immediately.  Feel free to read and comment here, but also check out all the awesome General Assembly coverage over at The Presbyterian Outlook.)

And Friday night, at the General Assembly, the commissioners were tired, the energy level was low, and the most controversial items had already been considered. So, first a few funny recollections from the week:

  • The Stated Clerk, Gradye Parson, has a suave-looking John Calvin bobble-head on his desk. I covet.
  • Moderator Cynthia Bolbach’s fun sense of humor kept the assembly in good spirits throughout the week. Perhaps her best crack cams during the moderator election when she, and elder said, “Ministers going on tangents…who knew?”
  • The chairs in the assembly hall, when scooted back or forth, sound like vuvuzelas. It’s hilarious.

More seriously, my read of the assembly is that it was a perfectly fine one, one that wrestled with tough issues conscientiously and sought the Spirit in its work. Many hugely important changes are proposed to the PC(USA) constitution, including the addition of the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions.

But, as I prepare to go back home, I’m also struck with a questioning sense about whether this formal, costly, somewhat unwieldy church structure is the most faithful way of conducting business at a national level. At 27, I’m too young to be a hardened cynic, but many times this week I thought, after a beautiful policy statement or theological document passed the assembly, “How much did we spend per word to make that document? And, how many Presbyterians – let alone others – will ever read it?” When I closed my eyes and listened to debate on the plenary floor, I wondered how much —really, how little— the basic way we govern ourselves has changed in fifty years.

Several folks, on both sides of theological divides, pointed out that if the rate of membership decline in the PC(USA) continues as it has in recent years, the PC(USA) will cease to exist in roughly 40 years. Sophisticated statisticians would surely add some complexity to that model, but even a simpleton can see we have a huge problem. So, I leave confused and saddened that the report of the committee on church growth and evangelism flew by so quickly, and with so little discussion.

Another systemic issue to raise my hackles this week was the fact that, in so many floor debates, we spoke to the surface-level of issues before us rather than to a deeper level, often the reason the issues were so controversial in the first place. For instance, our debate on sex and sexuality directly connected to many more pieces of business than the headline grabbers—ordination standards, marriage, and pension policies. But when such issues came up, we tended to argue in polity wonk language rather than actually talk about what was behind the arguments (e.g. the main motion and substitution motion regarding the General Assembly, Permanent Judicial Commission, the Bush case, and all the complexity). I’m all for our polity, but I’m also for truth telling.

This kills me at presbytery often as well, so maybe it’s just a bad Presbyterian habit: we argue over surface-level questions rather than converse about the real foundational issues underlying them that make the surface-level questions tricky in the first place. We are struck in a dualistic way of doing things – vote yes or no – one that gets us a “conclusion” when a majority votes, but really doesn’t solve a thing.

Next, just an observation without too much analysis: the Young Adult Advisory Delegates totally impressed us all this week, as usual. Our young people are extremely talented and fantastic church leaders. Also noteworthy is the fact that, on the big sexuality questions, they consistently voted more liberal than the assembly by MANY percentage points. If we don’t scare these youth away with our bickering, their minds don’t change, and they are somewhat representative of the young adults in the larger church, it’s difficult to imagine the hot-button sexuality questions not eventually turning more progressive (for want of a better word) in a few years’ time.

But here’s the thing, whether that scares you or excites you, it can lead us away from the point. I played a game with friends last night in which, before the evening assembly, we each chose key words for which to listen in the evening plenary. Each time that certain word or words were spoken, we took note, promising to donate a certain amount of money per word to our seminary. One of my friends listened for the phrase, “Jesus Christ.” Let’s just say she won’t be writing a big check.

So we continue the conversation. We continue our prayers that the Spirit might guide the church so that we might be more faithful, conduct our business more wisely, and make us good stewards of our gifts. General assemblies are our human attempt to do just that. I’m grateful God showed up, so grateful, but also I’m praying God’s got something new in mind real soon.

image by Erin Dunigan

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