Church Blog

"Radio London reminds you: Go to the church of your choice."

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Location: Illinois, United States

Scouting Report (based on simulated game throwing at an old mattress): Reliable four-seamer, curveball, splitter. Control issues - Prone to very wild pitches. Needs experience in real games.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Church Architecture

Today, Slate features a slide show with photos of American megachurches. Few of the new large churches feature the symbolism and mystery of old churches. Megachurches are likely to remind people of shopping centers, corporate offices, theaters, power plants, and giant greenhouses. The text that accompanies the slide show includes some insightful commentary, including Paul Goldberger's observation that "The Gothic cathedral was designed to inspire awe and thoughts of transcendence. Megachurches celebrate comfort, ease and the very idea of contemporary suburban life."

Here in Illinois, there are some very simple, pragmatic structures. One of the sites of this suburban franchise church is referred to as the Yellow Box.

The New WuxiRuss

As soon as I entered an internet bar in China, I remembered that Blogger sites are firewalled on the Mainland. Alas, I was unable to update the Church Blog and find ways to connect my observations of church to my experience in Asia. Trust me, I had many brilliant observations to share in the build up to the baseball playoffs. Too bad my life is rapidly changing and my blogging habits will probably change along with it.

Last night, I attended the wedding of one of my old nerd friends. When we were four, his mother made Superman capes for us and we wore them around the house, trying to leap over tall buildings. When we were in middle school, we went to Star Trek conventions together. Now, he's married. In a little over a month, I will be married. The Year of the Rooster turns out to be the Year of the Nerd. It's all happening!

What will happen to the Church Blog? Will I even worry about the changes in America's churches anymore? I wonder if this will make me the Bob Mould of blogging.

Update: I've found time to read Elmer Gantry and some church-related articles online. Long live the Church Blog! 万岁! 万岁! 万万岁!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Wuxi (pronounced "woo-she") is a city in eastern China. It rests beside Lake Tai and features theme parks based on the classic epic novels Three Kingdoms and Outlaws of the Marsh. I'm going to China next week, and I will visit Wuxi during my time there. As I prepare to go, I won't have much time to write about baseball and review church services. This blog will probably go without an update for the next two weeks. Don't completely ignore it, though. I might surprise you with an entry from China. Perhaps, I can convince a guest writer to contribute.

When I return to the United States next month, my life will have changed, but the Church Blog will go on ...

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Good Reads

Think of this as an "optional enrichment activity." An assignment for the Church Blog congregation.

1. Read this and answer the following question: What is the most frightening part of this article? Is it, for example, the reverend's blatant promotion of theocracy in America? Or, perhaps, his ministry's promotion of the prosperity gospel? I go for the latter. "Health and wealth theology" is what gets my blood pressure up these days.

2. Have a look at Rebecca Solnit's essay on the Harper's website. It's about government and regular folks' response to disasters. It was written to reflect on September 11 and went to press as Hurricane Katrina began to hit the Gulf Coast. She's added a postscript, available only on the website, with observations of the response to Katrina. The final paragraph features some of the most insightful writing I've seen so far about this disaster.

I know you're busy, but think of all the days I didn't give out homework.

Corporate Radio

According to this setlist, The Rolling Stones did, in fact, perform both "Start Me Up" and "Honky Tonk Women" during their recent concert in Chicago. They did play one song from Exile On Main Street, although it was a pretty predictable one (i.e. "Tumbling Dice"). Alas, there was nothing from the psychedelic freak-out Their Satanic Majesties Request. I guess I don't care, but I just wanted to point that out.

At the company where I work, there is a music program that employees can listen to through the speakers on their telephones. It's a corporate radio station in the truest sense. As one might expect, it's pretty awful. I listen anyway because I can't be without music for very long and I enjoy listening for the occasional gem. The Beach Boys' "Warmth of the Sun" pops up occasionally. Nearly everyday, I hear "City of New Orleans" and "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better." These are just welcome moments of relief. In the meantime, it's all kinds of sap that I can't imagine even people with bad taste really liking. It's not that people like it, I guess, it's just that the programmers think a larger number of people can tolerate this music.

Today, there were some baffling selections. I heard Rod Stewart's version of Sam Cooke's "Cupid" as well as his insipid cover of "You Can't Take That Away." I had to turn the speaker off when I heard Michael McDonald crooning "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing." I wondered if I was listening to WKKK. All your favorite songs, covered by your favorite white artists! It's only a matter of time before they force one of Michael Bolton's many tedious interpretations on us.

Although it's designed to not offend anyone, the music selection is the subject of a lot of griping over on my side of the office. It's all become a symbol of the corporate life for me. People gripe about a lot of little things. Meanwhile, they try to follow guidelines with titles like "(Company) Values." There's an overt effort to promote conformity to vague ideals. For the most part, people try their best to conform. They're happy just to have a job. This particular company has a habit of hiring many temps during the busy season because they can pay them less and don't have to worry about benefits. I gripe about the music and write about this in a blog, but I, too, am grateful just to have a weekly paycheck.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Not Church-As-Usual

It's 9/11 Sunday, so I am a little interested in what is going on in America's churches. Unfortunately, I was out very late last night and didn't even try to get out of bed before 10 a.m. this morning. Instead of going to church, I watched Book TV and heard William Langewieche, author of The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos, and Crime, tell students of Goucher College that he didn't think Americans' response to the events of 9/11 was very appropriate. A student question about American sensitivity to terrorist acts compared to the response in an area like Israel led him to comment on America's heightened sense of the catastrophe. In countries where this kind of attack happens more frequently, the response is not usually as intense, nor is it followed by such a massive military operation.

Being American, though, I cannot avoid reflecting on what seemed to me as quite shocking and sad events of four years ago. I also expect churches to address this event in some way. As the pastor of St. Sabina said, "When times are not usual, you can't have church as usual." Those were his words last week, when our minds were more completely focused on the Gulf Coast. I finally got around to listening to last week's sermon this morning, since the live webcast was not working. In the opening of the sermon, the pastor made it clear that "God did not do this," referring to the hurricane. "God is not the author of sickness, suffering, or death." As God is all-powerful, though, why did He allow this to happen? "I wish I could tell you," the pastor said, in a moment of striking honesty, "I don't know." But he did offer that "we ought to seek God to give us the answer, not Bush"

Saint Sabina is a church that does not dodge political issues. In his sermon, the pastor criticized President Bush and Condoleeza Rice (whom he called "Ms. Condescending Rice") for their negligence and political posturing. He also asked why we continue to abuse what God has given us, referring to our treatment of the environment that leads to global warming and possibly some of the natural disasters we are seeing so frequently. He also spoke of the problems of racism and poverty in America, which have become so clear in the last two weeks.

The pastor did not only attack politicians, though. He spread the criticism evenly, challenging the congregation about their own selfish ways. He accused them of hoarding, pointing out the extra clothing sitting in their closets and the hotel soap and shampoo they don't use. These are the kinds of things that people effected by the hurricane, and the poor in general, desperately need. People in Louisiana and Mississippi need clean water to drink, while we throw out unfinished bottles of Evian water.

My mother gave me a report about the service at the independent church this morning. The pastor's sermon, entitled "Comfort Brings Confusion, But Catastrophy Brings Clarity," sounds like it was probably not brought to the full potential of a sermon with such a clever title. It opened with the showing of a video. I seem to always miss the multimedia sermons. I keep hearing about them and hoping it will happen when I'm present and give me some good writing material.

This morning, the multimedia presentation consisted of the video for The Eagles song "Hole In the World." I would have probably walked out if I were present, mostly because I'm sick of aging classic rockers. Last night, I took the Metra train to downtown Chicago. That was a big mistake because the Rolling Stones were in town, and every loud, forty-something idiot in the suburbs was taking the train to see the concert. I even sat on the train with them later that night, after the concert. At that time, many were drunk and fondling their wives, most of whom did not have the figure to fit into such small tops. I listened as they talked about how "da Stones played everything" from "Jumpin' Jack Flash" to "You Can't Always Get What You Want." I'm sure they also played "Start Me Up" and "Honky Tonk Women," two of the worst songs in the history of rock 'n' roll. I wanted to ask the fans if the band played anything from Their Satanic Majesties Request. I'm sure I would've gotten blank stares. I listened to two of my favorite songs from that album in my car as I drove from the station to my home, just to remind myself that "da Stones" were capable of putting together some brilliant songs.

But, I digress.

Friday, September 09, 2005

4 Things I Didn't Like About Last Sunday's Service

I will feel a bit guilty doing this, mainly because the pastor read these words of Teddy Roosevelt last Sunday: "It is not the critic who counts ... The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood." So, not that this really counts, but ...

1. The first reading in the sermon was from the second chapter of Philippians, in which Paul tells members of the church at Philippi to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." The pastor paraphrased this as "work hard ... to show the results of your salvation." This seemed to neglect the intense emotional battle that Paul indicates. Also, the idea of working out one's salvation seems more existential than "showing the results" of one's salvation.

2. The pastor tried to incorporate the hurricane news into a sermon that was obviously written before the event. The sermon, titled "It's Not Bad Luck and It's Not Bad Karma -- It's Bad Habits" was part two of a series about habits. This time, he focused on overcoming bad habits that cause people to give up or give in to other people's desires. Instead of speaking directly about what we can do to help, he used the people along the Gulf coast as an example of those who must not give up even though people say they will never fully recover.

3. The pastor went on a short tangent that brought to mind intelligent design theory. He spoke of a "cosmic architecture," noting that the world is designed and is not random. There is also a design for a right way to live, he said, which we know as morality. I'm not sure why absence of randomness and spontaneity is the best evidence of a creator.

4. During the communion, the band performed some lethargic mood music. A painting of Christ on the cross was projected onto the big screen. I understand this was supposed to remind us of the focal point of communion, but I was distracted more by the poor quality of the painting. It was just too simple and typical to yield any dramatic response. It looked like a close-up of an illustration in a picture Bible. If an image is necessary, I would prefer something more symbolic of the crucifixion and its meaning.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Your Questions Answered

Did WuxiRuss go to church today? What is the church doing to help victims of Katrina? Surely, these questions were in the minds of many members of the Church Blog congregation this morning. Yes, I did go to church. I wanted to save gas, so I went back to the independent church not far from my house.

After a forgettable song that made me notice the absence of a bassist in the praise band this morning, the pastor took the stage and addressed the devastation in the Gulf cost region. He said that tragedy has a way of bringing out the best and worst in people. He said that, as Christians, we need to pay attention to the emotional and spiritual needs of those who are suffering. I thought this was not a good time to consider that because so many people need food and shelter before they can begin to heal the emotional pain.

Before the sermon, the pastor gave the congregation three ways that they can help the people in the areas hit by the hurricane. The first was to pray without ceasing. When tragedy strikes, the pastor believes, God wants to do something in the lives of people. In the pastor's words, God wants "to give birth to something" and "there's always birth pangs." The pastor finally got down to the people's immediate needs with his second call to action. He told the congregation that they could give financially. All money given in the offering today, unless placed in a green envelope, would go to hurricane relief via two churches in Louisiana that have contacted the pastor. Thirdly, the pastor announced that people could join the first work team that would travel to the region September 16.

As I'm writing this, I'm listening to the service at Saint Sabina. The band is playing a very New Orleans rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In" as the worship leader encourages everyone to write out a check for hurricane relief. The choir is joining in. It sounds incredible.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Methodists Unite!

A very Church Blog way to help hurricane victims would be to donate to the United Methodist Committee On Relief (UMCOR.) Go here for information on where to send the check or how to assemble a flood bucket or health kit.