Sunday, December 23, 2007


Ryan and I are sitting in the Portland airport waiting for the last leg of our flight to Medford. I guess that makes my post title incorrect. I'm not bound for Oregon; I'm already here. Anyway, my internet access will be spotty during my stay in the barn loft (see previous post for more on that), but I'll check in as often as possible to update on my adventures out west.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Dearly Beloathed

One of my good friends, who shall remain anonymous, but she lives in West Virginia and raises organic vegetables, just sent me a hilarious message about the Christmas she is hosting:
there are cousins here - with their kids - that i havent see in 8 years or so. in short, the whole fam damily. by the time the big day rolls around my christmas plans may have morphed from coco around the tree with all the dearly beloved to a fifth in the loft of the barn to escape the dearly beloathed.


Night at the Movies

It had been planned for a couple weeks- we were going to see National Treasure: Book of Secrets on Friday night after work. Armed with a ridiculously large bucket of popcorn and a bladder-busting sized coke, we nestled down into the comfy seats and enjoyed a couple hours of conspiracy theory and American history. It was great.

As we exited the theater (and no, they don't tell you what was on page 47, even if you wait until the end of the credits), we noticed that Sweeney Todd was also playing. What? We didn't think that opened until Christmas day. So we walked across the street, grabbed some dinner (since we were starving after only eating a pound of popcorn), and came back to see the serial killing madness of Johnny Depp's demon barber of Fleet Street. How festive.

They cut some songs, shortened the plot, and darkened it up. But I really liked it. I don't think Ryan was as impressed. I missed the Greek chorus- style "Ballad of Sweeney Todd," though the music does weave its way through the undercurrents of the movie. I thought "By the Sea" was hilarious. And I actually really liked Johnny Depp's voice.

If you're into Sondheim, go see it. But be warned, it's bloody. And not nearly as funny as George Hearn and Angela Lansbury.

Friday, December 21, 2007

More Cuteness

I know, this is becoming a bad habit. Who really wants weekly updates on the growth and progress of some baby most of you have never met? But this kid is so cute I just can't help myself. Here's a big smile from my little niece Eowyn Ruth. She's getting ready to head down to Alabama for Christmas.

The Top 10: My Shakespeare

During my trip to NYC, I contemplated which Shakespearean roles I would most want to play. This is assuming I could actually not butcher iambic pentameter. Here's the top 10, in rough order:
  • Portia (Merchant of Venice- hands down, the absolute best role Will ever wrote for women...even though women didn't originally play her)
  • Puck (Midsummer Night's Dream)
  • Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing)
  • Rosalind (As You Like It)
  • Kate (Taming of the Shrew)
  • Iago (Othello- wouldn't that be fascinating?)
  • Lady Macbeth (Macbeth)
  • Nurse (Romeo and Juliet)
  • Olivia (Twelfth Night)
and not quite sure about this one, but we'll throw it in...
  • Tamora (Titus Andronicus-- maybe? Not sure about that one...but maybe...)

What I'm Looking Forward To...What I'll Miss

I'm leaving for Oregon this weekend to spend Christmas with Ryan's family. When I arrived at work this morning, I had an email from Ryan's little brother, Josh, asking, "What kind of science do you want to do when you get here?" I love it! are some things I'm looking forward to with my Oregon Christmas:
  • Doing science with Josh.
  • Watching movies with Josh.
  • Playing charades with Josh.
  • Meeting my niece, Alicia McKinley Strelow, for the first time.
  • Being in the great Oregon outdoors.
  • Shooting clay pigeons.
  • Staying in the loft in the barn. (Okay, it's actually the work shed or something like that, but it's more fun to say the loft in the barn, right?)
  • Snow
  • Papa Murphy's pizza. YUM!!!
  • The ridiculously huge tree in the Zempel house.
  • Trying to get everyone excited about LSU going to the National Championship!
And not to be a bummer or anything, but here are a few things I'll miss since I won't be in Mobile for Christmas this year:
  • Gran's cherry pie
  • Gran's pecan pie
  • Gran's chocolate pie
  • Dad's fried turkey. Oh yes, thank you Lord for Dad and his Fried turkey!
  • Mom's mac and cheese
  • anyone seeing a theme here? Okay, moving away from food...
  • Seeing my cute little niece Eowyn Ruth McClure
  • Seeing absolutely every Mobilian I know in the Bel Air Mall on Christmas Eve
  • Watching football and movies with the family.
  • Watching dad fall asleep while people are unwrapping presents.
  • Watching Jim take 53.2 minutes to unwrap a single present.
  • Playing in the Christmas Ho-Ho Bowl (touch football) against the Mathews family. Okay, so we haven't done that in years, but it's such a wonderful memory!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Help Me Write a Curriculum

I'm writing a curriculum for a new NCC core discipleship group- Neighborhoods and Nations. It is the port city for the Influence Island and will focus on the relational dimension of discipleship. I'd like to get some feedback on it. What would you add? What would you subtract? What books or resources should I know about?

Here's a rough outline:

Irrelevance is Irreverence

Maturity Does Not Equal Conformity

Everyone is Invaluable and Irreplaceable

The Greatest Message Deserves the Greatest Marketing

The Greatest Message Deserves the Greatest Marketing

You Can’t Outgive God

Go the Extra Mile

Love People When They Least Expect It and Least Deserve It

Be One, Make One, For One

Playing It Safe is Risky

Elephant in the Church

This fall, we did a bold sermon series entitled Elephant in the Church. We wanted to hit on topics that everyone was thinking about but no one was talking about. We hit on subjects such as legalism, hypocrisy, spiritual consumerism, sexual addiction, etc.

Now, the Elephant is loose and ready to invade other churches. Our amazing digital pastor, David Russell, just released a microsite with tons of free resources from the series. Check it out here.

Leader Leak

This is about as candid as I can be on a public blog. I'm feeling crappy. And that is totally out of character for me. The end of a semester is always a tumultuous mix of joy and sadness. It's exciting to see new leaders stepping up to the plate and new groups emerging. But it's terrible to see leaders leave.

That happens a lot around here at NCC. We've generally got folks for about two years, and then they're off again for grad school, missions work, run for office, etc.

This semester, I'm losing about a half dozen leaders. Some are leaving because of life change issues, and we are excited to be a part of their transition to new things in life. Others are leaving because NCC is just not the right fit for them anymore; and that's where the issue gets tough for me. And where the crappiness comes from. I feel caught between two strongly held beliefs that 1) people need to be plugged into the church where the can best grow but also that 2) people need to be committed to the church they are plugged into.

So how do other people deal with leader leak? Do you have exit interviews? Do you use the departure as an opportunity to re-evaluate your own leadership or to re-evaluate your structures and systems?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Reading List

I'm beginning to put together a reading list for next year. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I'm seeing a new face of DC that I've never seen before: commuters. For as long as I've lived in DC, I've lived within walking distance of my job. Whether half a mile or, well, about 10 feet, I've been able to leave the car parked on the street for weeks at a time.

Now, I'm driving to work most days. Granted, it's only about a mile away, but who wants to walk a mile in the morning and night in DC December? I'm not commuting very far. In fact, it's probably not even far enough to warrant using that word to characterize my morning travels. But I'm learning a little about the personality of these people (that I'm now joining) and it's pretty funny.

As I drove down F Street this morning, I saw a nice big space between an SUV and a motorcycle and slowed down to prepare for my backwards move into the space. As I rolled to a stop parallel to the SUV, put my car into reverse, and checked my rearview mirror to commence my initial approach into the space, a rather large mini-van driven by a rather large and angry-looking woman zipped into the space from behind. Horn was blaring, arms were flailing. Clearly, this space was not going to be mine. I have no idea where this woman came from or what reason she had for laying claim to this space. But that was fine, she could have it. I drove around the block. Thinking about how big the space was, I pondered that it was quite possible that both of us could fit into the space. As I rounded the corner, I saw that, indeed, both of us could fit into the space. However, she parked square in the middle of the SUV and the motorcycle, thereby preventing me (or any other car that might get in her way) to share the space.

I laughed and drove on. I hope this woman's day turns out to be better than her morning!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Fifty Books

At the beginning of each year, I set goals in a number of different categories. One of my goals for 2007 was to read 50 books. I'm at 36 right now, and 50 is looking really far away. Looks like I'll have to settle for closer to 40. I'd like to think that writing Mark's Chase the Lion workbook and writing for an upcoming Thomas Nelson Bible project should count towards something, but I'm still disappointed about not hitting that goal.

With that said, I've read some really cool stuff this year. Some of my favorites have included Across the Spectrum, Humility, and They Like Jesus But Not the Church. I'll post a list of all the books I've read in January.

Deck the Halls with Lights, Lasers, and Pyrotechnics

Ryan and I went to see the Trans-siberian Orchestra last night. We had to schmooze a bit with some of his work folks, but hey, it was free and we got to sit in a box with ridiculous amounts of amazing food.

The show was incredible. Really great music and never-ending displays of light, laser, and pyrotechnic wonder. And I thought Illuminations at EPCOT was impressive. If you get a chance to see these guys in concert this Christmas, go. Even if you don't like the music, it's worth it to watch the lighting infrastructure dance above the stage.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Book Review: Practical Justice

Another home run in the new series of Likewise books from InterVarsity Press, Practical Justice introduces a balanced yet profoundly prophetic voice into the discussion of the role of the church and the role of the Christian to justice issues.

Kevin Blue, director of the Los Angeles Urban Project with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, states in the first chapter, "No one who encountered Jesus was able to just ignore him. All went away disturbed." Reading this book disturbed me to the point of actually pondering for a few short moments if I needed to stop being a pastor and go back to working on Capitol Hill in order to really advance the Kingdom of God in the world around me. Kevin speaks from lots of personal experience and years of thinking through these issues, and I find his voice to be a refreshing addition to the mix of personalities involved in these discussions. I especially like the three chapters that explored the idiom, "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach him to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime." Kevin demonstrates that both are necessary and gives practical advice for how individuals can participate in both steps of that process. More importantly, he includes a third vital component-- fixing the pond-- to address larger systems and structures that must be changed in order to make a more complete and permanent impact.

While Kevin seemed to slip in and out of teaching, encouraging, and preaching, in general, I enjoyed his tone and easy to read writing style. I feel like I know a bit about his heart and personality after reading this book. The chapter on race and class seems awkward in its placement in the book. And his advice that Christians should have no political leanings seems impractical and impossible for those of us in DC who worked (or a currently working) within places in government that have the power to fix the pond.

With the exception of those two minor things, I really enjoyed this book. Kevin is balanced in his approach and yet prophetic in his call to make a change in our generation. The practical steps he offers seem valuable to anyone at any point on their journey into understanding and working within justice and compassion issues. I also appreciate the value he places on making changes in our culture within the context of community and the chapter on not becoming what you hate.

Practical Justice propelled my thinking on this topic forward, and it gave me a new outreach idea for NCC. It would be a great book for a small group. John Hasler wrote a review of this book here.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Zone Leader Christmas

On Wednesday night, we had the zone leaders over for a little festive Mexican holiday cheer and some big, loud laughs. What a great team I have the privilege to work with!

We did a book exchange (thanks for the idea, Dave Zimmerman!). Each of us brought a book that had made a significant impact on our spiritual life, wrapped it, and put it under the tree. Which was really a very large poinsettia (thanks Joel and Nina Schmidgall!). Then, we picked numbers and chose books from under the tree. One by one, we opened the books, and the person who brought the book explained why they chose it.

It was such a tough decision to know what to bring! And most of the stuff that really impacted me has already been stuffed down my zone leaders' throats. I finally settled on Bob Briner's Roaring Lambs. If you haven't read it, you must.

For a complete list of the books that were given, check out Sarah's post on

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Niece is Too Stinkin' Cute

2007 Thursday Leadership Lessons

We just wrapped up our 2007 Thursday Leadership Lessons series over on Every Thursday, we write a short article on some aspect of leadership that we think would be helpful to our small group and ministry leaders. Most of them fit into one of our semester "series." The main series of 2007 included the following topics. Links are provided to the articles.

Foundations (Spring Semester Series)- Principles for laying and building on firm foundations. This series explores the idea of leading ourselves well so that we will be leaders worth following.

Community (May Term Series) - John Hasler challenges our ideas of Christian community and encourages us to move beyond the surface to real, authentic relationships. Read them here, here, here, and here.

Construction (Summer Semester Series)- Building teams, disciples, and leaders that last.

Repair and Remodeling (Fall Semester Series)- No matter how solid the foundation, no matter how good the construction, no matter how skilled the leadership, there comes a point in the life of every project where some repair and remodeling are required.

A Day at the Museum...and Monastery

Yesterday, I played hooky from work. And being the bad influence that I am, I dragged one of our staffers- Bekah Kitterman- along for the ride. We spent about half the day at the National Gallery of Art. I love that place! I wrote about half of the Chase the Lion small group workbook there, and I frequent their cafe on off-site brainstorm days. It's a great place to get out of the rut and to think outside the box. It was great to go through the museum with Bekah because she's an artist herself. I got to hear all kinds of cool background stories on different artists and their pieces that gave me a new appreciation for everything from 1800s landscape painting (which I already love) to more modern, contemporary, and postmodern pieces (some of which I love; some of which I hate; some of which I just don't get). And Bekah's great because she didn't freak out when the word "crap" slipped out of my mouth to characterize my opinion of Jackson Pollock's Lavender Mist.

We also hung out at the Franciscan Monastery for a bit and got a tour of the underground replicas of the catacombs and Bethlehem grotto. The fact that two church staff members would choose to visit a church on a vacation day is fodder for jokes, I know, but it was fun.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

I'm Back

I've been in and out of the office recently, but I'm back for a while. Here's what you've missed:
  • We finally got heat in our home!! Now, if we could just get the washing machine to stop walking across the basement floor...
  • We had a great NCC staff planning retreat in Baltimore.
  • Finished reading Ron Martoia's Static. Very interesting. I'll be chewing on some of that stuff for a long time. Really intellectual topics handled in a very conversational and accessible way.
  • Now I'm reading Disciple-Making Pastor .
  • My niece is getting cuter and cuter.
  • We had our Annual Live Nativity in Lincoln Park last night. What a blast! I'm so excited to be a part of the church that invests in its community in such a unique way.