Bruce’s Friday Five v9.21

 BOOKS // If you are like me, you are reading more than one book at any given time. Some are for work, others for edification and still others, what I call “brain candy,” for the pure joy of reading.  Here are three books that are are being lugged around in my bag and/or on my kindle these days. If you liked the non-fiction gem, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America then I guarantee that you will devour Erik Larson’s latest book, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin. Holy schmoly, only is it a page-turner with the added bonus that you feel yourself getting all smarter and stuff as you read it.  Next up is one that was recommended to me by a friend and professor at the University of San Francisco, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang, again, get smarter. And if you really want to dive into the hip-hop scene, grab the pricey That’s the Joint!: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader or give a listen to Blue Scholars’ Cinemetropolis, one of my favorites. And finally, I have been trying to finish my review of T.C. Ryan’s Ashamed No More: A Pastor’s Journey Through Sex Addiction, so I’ll say more about it later, but it’s one of those topics that is simply never talked about; a good one to read.

 The 47% // Okay, I admit it, while I will resist the name-calling and demonizing that is just too easy, after watching the video of Mitt Romney and his comments during a private fundraiser, I for one, do not think that he was pandering or misspeaking. One can argue about whether or not Romney should have said what he said, but I have no doubt that he echoes what many people believe . . . and he has helped to make my choice of Obama or Stein even clearer.  I posted some thoughts on the whole thing, but here is a great post from Rhetoric, Race and Religion [blog | twitter | facebook] and contributor, Rashad Grove, as he muses about a Theology of Privilege. Good stuff.

 GANGNAM STYLE // This week, I REALLY felt out of the pop-culture loop . . . more than usual. Not only was I unfamiliar with most of the songs from this week’s episode of Glee, Britney 2.0, but “Gangnam Style” references were popping up everywhere. Apparently there is this thing called Youtube where people can share movies and this one is a biggie. Thank goodness for Grace Ji-Sun Kim, for dropping a little knowledge for those of us who are out of the know.

THE DEMOCRACY OF INCLUSION // If you are looking for a cool project to support with a few bucks, I just got a note from multimedia journalist and friend, Michael Fagans, about a very cool project that he is working with the Kern Arts Council. From Michael, “One of the reasons that this project resonates with me is that it is a film about and by people with special needs. Rather than document a group of people in our community, the group is turning the camera back on society and talking about and illustrating their experiences with life. All too often people think of special needs children, but no one seems to realize that they grow up to be adults.” This seems like a worthy project, so please like their Facebook Page and, if you feel so called, please join me and donate on Kickstarter.

ONE-LEGGED SOCCER PLAYER // And lastly, from the “If this does not move you, you might just be dead inside” file, here is a 12 second video that made me tear up just a bit. Watch it a few times. Pure awesome. h/t David Lewicki

Five blog highlights since my last Friday Five . . .

  1. Thoughts on Bitter Gun Owners and the Entitled 47%
  2. What the Body of Christ Can Learn from Fantasy Sports
  3. Why This Christian Will Never Own a Gun
  4. A Gift of Perspective in Discerning God’s Call
  5. FREE eBOOK: 54 Leaders Under 50 Share 50+ Ideas to Revitalize Your Congregation

My Friday Five  is a mishmash of weekly-ish happening and people that I find compelling, provoking and/or just plain quirky. If you stumble upon such things over the course of your day, please feel free to pass them along to me via Twitter or Facebook.

Number images are from the Leo Reynolds’ Collection, Creative Commons

Randy Branson, Candidate for Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA)

In an attempt to help folks get to know the candidates for Moderator of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), I have asked the Moderatorial and Vice-Moderatorial Candidates a few questions. You can find links to all of their responses HERE and you can follow most of the candidates on Twitter HERE. Thanks for taking the time to read their responses and please feel free to share this with friends, leave a comment or ask a question.

Randy Branson – Teaching Elder, Palo Duro Presbytery

A snippet from Randy’s responses in the 2012 Moderatorial Handbook:

I am a pastor with 40 years of successful experience leading congregations to set aside old grievances and discover futures filled with dynamic ministry. I have helped accomplish this by developing deeply committed, loving and lasting relationships with people who hold widely divergent views from mine on everything from theology to politics. I approach each person with appreciation, respect, and trust.

Knowing that being Moderator/Vice-Moderator will require a great deal of time and energy from you and your community, why give in this way to the Presbyterian Church (USA)?

When he heard I was standing for Moderator, one of my good friends, a national PCUSA figure, asked me, “What are you thinking?” The thought of being the Moderator of the PCUSA at this time in our history is a daunting one. At the same time someone needs to stand up to offer a way forward. It seems that my 40 years of ministry have been preparing me for this moment. Throughout my ministry I have been engaged with congregations and structures that are in crisis or serious conflict. I have helped these organizations move past their problems to embrace new possibilities and hope. I am a peacemaker by nature and conviction. I am a pastor, and this denomination needs a loving pastor, one who will appreciate the unique contributions of all parts of our Church. I offer my experience, gifts, and graces to the PCUSA. The question that remains is where the Holy Spirit will lead the commissioners.

I do not give up easily, and I am unwilling to give up on the PCUSA. As a leader in Palo Duro Presbytery, I have witnessed and been a part of dramatic renewal and transformation in congregations and presbytery life. I hope other churches will be inspired by our stories. I hope to get the opportunity to share these stories with the denomination because we are best served by sharing best practices instead of focusing on pathologies.

So, why do I want to give in this way? It’s my calling.

If someone were to ask you, “Why should I bother going to church?” how would you respond?

I wouldn’t answer directly. Rather, I’d invite them to hang out, to meet me for a soft drink or other libation, have lunch, play golf, go fishing, join in a Habitat build. I’d invite them to my house along with other Christians, who are active in my church. Instead of addressing why they should bother going to church, I’d invite them into a relationship with me and other believers.

I believe all evangelism is local and relational. It begins with caring about the other as a person and an individual. Since the Christian faith is better caught than taught, I’d respond with interest, listening, invitation and acceptance. Through a relationship with members of a faith community, an individual can encounter the living Christ. Holy Spirit creates faith, we don’t.

Given this response, I also have difficulty with the question. It implies that there is a gain for someone who attends church. This produces a consumer mentality that will last only as long as someone gets something from their faith experience. According to our Reformed faith, the Church provides a way for believers to show our love for God and to serve the world. Such understanding comes from associating with believers who get it. It isn’t about us. It’s about God. To God be the glory!

Choose one item of business or issue that will be coming up at General Assembly and share your perspective.

Critical information for the future of the PCUSA will be presented in the reports of the Mid-Council Commission and The Future of the Church. It will be significant to our future for the whole PCUSA to consider these reports. They are full of wisdom, challenge, insight, and opportunity. They are so important that they could easily take up all our time, but they won’t because of other important issues.

I fear that these 2 reports will be discussed, voted on, and forgotten. I hope instead that commissioners will find a way to introduce this material to every mid-council and congregation in our denomination. I suggest that the GA employ some unemployed Certified Christian Educators to devise a curriculum to engage these 2 reports. Further, I propose that these same educators develop a way to bring this curriculum to every mid-council in the PCUSA.

Doing this will demonstrate the General Assembly’s commitment to strengthen congregations in some practical and substantial ways. It will increase contact and communication between GA staff and representatives and congregations. It will encourage congregations to use the material contained in the reports to strengthen their ministry.

Someone will raise the question of cost. Adopting the recommendations of the Mid-Council Commission will be very expensive and complicated, but they will be negative expenses. My suggestion is not to adopt the recommendations but use our money for a positive response to these critical reports.

What are a few things that most people would never guess about you: interests, adventures or . . .?

I claim to be the shortest first baseman in Big 8 history. For those under 45 years of age, you won’t remember the Big 8, but it was one of the premier athletic conferences in the country for decades. I played 2 years of intercollegiate baseball at Oklahoma University in 1966-1967.

I have a wide variety of musical tastes from classical to pop, jazz to Broadway. I love dance, ballet, and the classical fine arts. My favorite TV shows are “So You Think You Can Dance,” “The Sing-Off,” and “Glee.”

I love to sing, and this summer I will participate in my 5th St. Olaf Conference on Worship, Theology, and the Arts. I will sing in the adult mixed choir.

I was a member of the Society of Biblical Literature for 15 years following graduation from seminary.

I love Ghost Ranch and have enjoyed many magical seminars there.

I have been the volunteer chaplain for the Graham Police Department for the last 3 years.

WILD CARD: Answer any question you want, one that someone has yet to ask or choose from some that have been asked here:

I am going to address several questions having to do with my pastoral experience and how I’ve worked with congregations to strengthen their ministry.

I currently serve as pastor of a church with 307 members and a budget of more than $400,000. We just completed a capital campaign raising $600,000 in contributions and pledges toward some deferred maintenance on the church building, including especially replacing the entire roof. We are active in several local mission projects and are the 3rd largest contributor in our presbytery to the mission of the PCUSA.

In the first 6 years of my ministry in Graham, the church experienced 14 of the top 20 stresses in congregational life as taught in interim pastor training. We lost many members and faced strong community judgment against us. With perseverance, prayer and focused ministry we have moved past this to become a growing church.

During the same time that challenges faced the church in Graham, I was the moderator of the session in a small church in a small community which was also struggling with its future. I hope to get the opportunity to tell the story of the Miracle of Seymour. This church is now thriving, baptizing, growing, and serving, and all without a pastor.

The experiences in Graham and Seymour have provided me with a vision for the future of the PCUSA. When we focus on mission and ministry, serve faithfully in covenant relationship, and encourage one another in love, miracles happen.

Thanks again to all of the candidates for being part of this process. While we obviously hold all of the candidates in prayer throughout this process, please be sure to pray for their communities of service, their families and all who are supporting them during this time. For all of the candidates’ links and responses click HERE or go directly to the individual responses: