In the early part of 2008 I finally got around to reading Blue Like Jazz. Most of my friends had read Donald Miller’s perspective changing book a few years earlier. You could say I was a little behind the times. Earlier this year, I started hearing rumors of a movie based on the book, and I was excited to see this book come to life. Recently, I had the opportunity to see a pre-release of Blue Like Jazz: The Movie. I made up for being behind in reading the book, by seeing the movie earlier. It works.
It is the story of a nineteen year old sophomore from Texas. Don, tries to escape his Bible Belt upbringing by heading to Reed College in the Pacific Northwest. Don is based off the real Donald Miller and his experiences when he audited some courses at Reed College as an adult. Reed College is very real and is actually rated as the most godless campus in America.
The film is rated PG-13 and earns its rating. Steve Taylor, the director, was on hand at the screening. “It is not a family friendly movie, and we have gotten a lot of flak for that from the Christian market.” He explained that the current trend in Christian filmmaking is to make movies that are safe for families. “But, if we took the Bible and made it family friendly, it would be pretty short.” To which I would add, the story of Jesus’ death would not make the cut, and where would that leave us? Furthermore, our kids, students, and us, are watching movies far worse which do not have the strong, well told, message this movie presents.
Don finds himself in the midst of all the drinking, partying, and difficult situations we typically associate with college life. At the end of the move we had to fill out a survey. One of the questions was; “Did you find the movie, language, and/or themes disturbing?” I wrote; “Yes, that was disturbing…but it is what really happens.” As I talked with my wife afterward, I found that she answered that question the same. I wish they would have cut out some of the language, the binge drinking, and the rave party. But, if they did, they would not have accurately represented life at Reed College, or life of our young adults currently in college. These are real situation, real temptations, and real responses. Do we want to turn a blind eye and romanticize the experiences of our young people?
The survey also asked if I, as a pastor, would show this in my church. I was hesitant. But, the more I think, the more I realize I am hesitant for the wrong reason. I am worried that people will be offended. But, there is a time and place to be offended. When I read the words of Jesus, I am often offended. Jesus is not safe. Following Him has given me peace, but does not guarantee my safety or that everything will always work out perfectly. So yes, I would like to show this in my church. Here is who I would like to see it.
- Youth: Not just those getting ready to go to college. But those who are struggling with similar issue in high school currently. We need to facilitate a discussion with them afterward about how their faith works in this transition.
- College Students and Young Adults: It will resonate in a powerful way. It gives them an example of how their faith can actually mature in the face of challenge. College can actually be a disciple forming experience.
- Adults: They need to see what their kids are going through in college. It is tough! If we are serious about seeing our church, and the Church, continue to speak relevantly to the culture, we must understand the culture. I walked away and said, “This is why we do ministry with young adults, because this stage of life is tough and the Church overall has chosen to set this group aside until it gets married, has kids, and settles down.”
You need to see this movie. My comments above focus on the serious issues it raises. But, it is actually very entertaining and funny. The message is solid, the acting is great, and the storyline is very well developed. For those who have read the book, you will find yourself connecting to some of the subtle nods to the book. You can expect a movie that deals honestly with the questions we all have, and the situations we all come to, as we go through life.
Go see the movie, it open this Friday, and let me know what you think. You can leave a comment below, or send me an email. To find your local listings, click here. The closest showings for Orlando are Regal Winter Park Village, AMC West Oaks (Ocoee), and Regal The Loop (Kissimmee).
Today I met with the Board of Ordained Ministry of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. I was recommended as a Provisional Elder with the conference. This is the point to which I have been working toward since beginning the process to ordination with the United Methodist Church in 2008. This is a big step. But, I know that many are not very familiar with how the process of becoming a pastor works in the UMC.
The first step, when someone feels calls to ministry, meets with their pastor. The pastor hears there call, and also directs them to meet with their district superintendent. For us in Orlando, Dr. Wayne Wiatt (best D.S. ever) helps to start the process of candidacy. The candidacy process is formatted to help someone better understand their call through reflection and conversation with others. For my process, I meet with a candidacy mentor (Randy Strickland – Conway UMC) for about a year to discern and understand the details of calling and ordained ministry. This process involves reading, writing, psychological and personality tests, and even a session with a licensed counselor. All of this is designed to help the individual feel confident in their call.
After meeting with my mentor for about a year, I applied to the District Committee on Ordained Ministry. This group is tasked with confirming the call of the individual. It is made up of local lay and clergy reps. I was blessed to have some great people on my DCOM, like Emily Ann Zimmerman. She is the wife of Gene Zimmerman, a retired clergy member from Florida, and former pastor (and current member) of First UMC Orlando. Emily Ann serves a lay member of the board. I think it is great that we have members of our local churches helping to make new pastors for our church. I became a certified candidate through his committee. This stage recognizes that God is calling me to ordained ministry. They DCOM gives “contingencies” to candidates as ways for growth. These can include reading, meeting in a directed study, counseling, retreats, etc. One of my contingencies was a semester as a Chaplain, working in the hospital.
Seminary is only one part, though a big part, of the overall process. As I came to the end of seminary, I had to write my “paperwork” to present to the DCOM. This involves expanding on topics such as leadership, theology, personal growth, and proclamation/preaching. My paperwork came to about 100 pages. It is like a Master’s thesis. From this paperwork, I interviewed with the DCOM. They are looking to see if I am reading to apply to the state level conference for ordination. They want to see I can articulate my call, and my understanding of God, and that these fit within the UM theology and practice. At my DCOM meeting in September, I was recommend to apply to the Board of Ordained Ministry, or BOOM, for short.
The BOOM is made up of clergy and lay people from across the conference. Ages range from young adult to retirees, and demographics vary as a way to allow the diversity of the conference to be represented. My senior pastor, Tom McCloskey serves on the board. Though, he cannot sit in during my interview, to ensure there is no bias. A key part of this group’s responsibility is interviewing candidates (like myself) who are pursuing ordained ministry.
The BOOM reads all the same paperwork, and then has the choice to set up an interview. This brings us back to today. I meet with a small group, about 8-10 people, who ask follow up questions to the paperwork submitted. This lasted about an hour. Then, the full BOOM, about 50 members, meets and has a chance to ask me questions. They can ask about theology, personal growth, preaching, and leadership. I leave the room, and the group discusses and takes a vote. The best way I have heard it described, is the BOOM is looking for ways to pass the candidate. They want to see the church grow, not keep people out. The BOOM has the option of three responses; a recommend which is what I received, a continuation which says everything is in order but more experience is needed, or a discontinue, which means they person may not be called to the UMC. They recommended that the conference make me a Provisional Elder, which receives a final vote at the upcoming annual conference this summer.
Over the next three years, I will continue to grow in my gifts and talents in ministry. I will then have a chance to apply to the BOOM again to become a Full Elder. I explain it to people like this. Professors are hired at schools, but on a probationary basis (Provisional Elder). After several years, and demonstration of the long-terms gifts, receive tenure (Full Elder).
I found the process, over the past few years to be quite long and often challenging. There were times when I thought it would be easier to find a different denomination to do ministry in. But, I sensed God was calling me to the UMC. This call was constantly re-affirmed in my meetings with my mentor, the district committee, and finally, the BOOM. The process we have in place is challenging. I literally gave blood, sweat, and tears. We have to do a health physical, so there was a blood test. But, this ensures that the churches of the UMC, and especially the Florida Conference, are sent the well trained, called, and thoroughly prepared ministers who know they are in the place God would have them be.
I hope this helps to explain how pastors come to be in the UMC. I am grateful to God for his presence with me through it. I am thankful to the family, friends, and countless church members who committed to praying for me today. I felt God’s peace and presence with me during the interview, and I could ask for no more than that.
What is Advent? Seriously, take a minute and try and define it in your head. What did you come up with? It’s a big event on the church calendar, but the meaning can often elude us. We talked about the deeper meaning of Advent in our Young Adult gathering last night. We started with the following video.
“Advent” is a Latin word, made popular in 490 AD. It means, “coming,” as in the coming birth of Jesus. Each time this year we hear the stories from Matthew and Luke about the birth of baby Jesus. They make us feel warm and fuzzy about this innocent child being born into the world. But Advent is more; it is actually 3 distinct “comings.”
The first is the Jesus’ birth, the usual celebration this time of year. Now that is a big deal all by itself. The fact that God came into the world as a baby is important. But, if we stop there, we miss the bigger picture of Advent. The second coming is Jesus’ presence in the world. This gives us a sense joy. We can see that world will finally begin to be set right. No longer is God far off, like we feel in the Old Testament, but right here with us. Advent reminds us that Jesus comes into the day to day to commune, to live life, with us. The final part of Advent is that Jesus is coming back one day. It is what we call the second coming. This is about hope. We are reminded that the world and our lives will not spin deeper and deeper in to brokenness and sin and ultimately destroy itself. We are reminded that Jesus will come again and will rescue those who have put their faith in Him. The hope, is that the world and our lives will be made right again.
So, when you think about Advent, remember it is about the coming of Jesus; past, present, and future.
I heard it said that finding happiness is about grasping what will last, and letting go of what is fleeting. That reminds me of the star that the Wise Men see in the East [see Matthew 2:1-6]. They were used to traveling by following the stars, because they did not move. There were not accurate maps. The maps they had would change and shift based on discoveries. The stars, however, were consistent. As we think about our lives, we see that the “stars” that have taught, guided, and led us over the years. What or who has been your guide over your lifetime?
Young adulthood is about striking out on your own. In many ways, you are like the wise men who leave behind their kingdoms in search of God. So what are the stars you are following now? Does it have to do with a vision for a career, family pressure, or a relationship? Where do you see that star leading you? Is it fleeting, or does it seem lasting?
When we look at the night sky, we are overwhelmed by how many stars are present. It can be hard to find the one “right one.” The fear is that if we get the wrong star, we might end up outside God’s will. Or, like Joseph in the above video, get “unfriended.” More and more, I have come to see that God gives us choices. If the next step was always obvious, we would have no need for God. So, in the midst of the big decisions we have as young adults, we can find peace. The peace comes knowing that God has called us to follow Him. As we journey, we pray, seek the advice of others, and listen. If we end up on the wrong path, God will correct it. Advent reminds us that God has been present in our lives, that He will watch over the future, and especially that Jesus is with us today.
Let Advent be a time for you to follow the stars in your life. Let them lead you to Jesus, to the plans and opportunities He has for you. And relax, He is guiding you, even if it does not always feel like it.
Feel free to use the comment section to post any comments, thoughts, or disagreements you have.
People can be very passionate about the version of the Bible they prefer to use. It is not uncommon to hear someone fervently demanding the King James Version is the Bible. The joke I sometimes hear (and enjoy using myself), goes like this. “If the King James Version was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for me!” Now, of course, we know that Jesus did not read the ol’ KJV. The KJV was an English translation of the Latin Vulgate and happened in 1611 AD. The Latin Bible, from which the KJV was translated, came a good while after Jesus also. The KJV was a great and historic production in its time. But, if one is looking for accuracy, making our English language reflect as closely as possible the original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic of the Bible authors, there are some fine works today. I give a shout out to my fav; the New Revised Standard Version.
So why is the KJV still so widely used? The language, with all of the thee and thou sounds holy. It sounds like we might expect God to sound. We like God sounding very formal, high brow, and refined. God sounds good as an British Gentleman. The language of the KJV gives the impression that the words of the Bible are not like the words we use on a daily basis. Our daily English is common. It is used for everything from used car commercials, advertising, and dialogue with others. It feels like we are doing scripture a injustice by allowing it to be so common sounding.
Here is a sample selection of the KJV from John 1:15 “John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.”
Yet, common language is exactly what God is going for. We like words like “incarnation” in church. It feels good to use those big words. But, we can miss the meaning. Incarnation is just a fancy way of saying that God became human in Jesus in order to build a deep and lasting relationship with us. This is why it is OK that the Bible uses the same language we use on a daily basis. Sticking with the KJV reinforces the idea that God is distant, far-off, and out of touch with our reality. The truth, is that God comes to every nation, person , and situation on earth. God speaks your native, common language. Thee and thou was great when everyone else used it daily. The glory of God is shown not only in that He makes the first move to speak to us, but that He chooses to do so in our common everyday language. This is so we can see and experience God’s Word in our common and everyday lives.
What version do you use, and why?