Farewell Patrick McManus

If someone were to ask me who is the funniest writer I’ve ever read, there is little question what the answer would be. Of course, I’m not sure who would ask me that, but I’m ready when someone does.

For the sake of my setup, imagine you had actually asked me who I think is the funniest writer. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Thanks.

Wow! That’s a tough question. I’m not sure anyone’s ever asked me that, but you know, I think I have a pretty good answer.

The funniest books in print are, with little question, by a man names Patrick McManus. Or, as his close friends call him—those of us who have read his stories—Pat.

Now that you’ve asked me about Pat, I have to tell you that he’s no longer writing, because he died recently at the age of 84. He’s gone into the twilight, endlessly grousing. The world is a bit poorer because he’s gone, too.

2011summer_mcmanus2.jpg

I discovered McManus in the back of the Field and Stream magazines that came to the house. Then I found out that many of those essays had been collected into books. That was sometime around the 6th grade.

Even as a kid, his humor could make me literally laugh out loud. He wrote with a wit and humor that was slightly self-deprecating, but mostly just funny.

His humor is generally G-rated, with the occasional innuendo that probably flew over my head as a youngster. Unlike so much of the humor in that’s out there now, he was not trying to shock his audiences, score political points, or tear someone down.

Instead McManus tells stories. He tells stories about himself—or the character that he pretends to be—through several phases of his life with a cast of familiar characters. McManus often plays the naïve straight man for the more comedic characters. He most often plays the man who knew too little, and it’s fun to watch him bumble through life.

Among the characters from his childhood are Rancid Crabtree, the old woodsman and sometimes mentor, and Crazy Eddie Muldoon, his childhood friend and negative influence. The amusingly foolish friend, Retch Sweeney, and worried neighbor, Al Finley, carry the storyline in Pat’s adult years. Meanwhile Pat’s mother, his sister the Troll, and his wife Bun, provide foils for the humor of Pat’s hijinks. As you pick up each of his stories, there are familiar people you come to know and become curious about what they might do next.

Even when McManus writes an expected storyline, he tells the story in an amusing fashion. Of course, things were better when he was a boy, but they were also harder. Except that the trails are much steeper and the air thinner now that he’s getting older. Even when you know what is going to happen because the plotline is predictable and McManus has strewn plenty of foreshadowing there is always a twist that makes the tale worth your time.

I’ve known marriage counselors who started sessions off by reading one of McManus’ short stories. If the couple doesn’t laugh, the counselor knows he is in for a rough time. If they laugh, then the ice is broken and the ground is a little softer for the plowing. The man is funny enough to make everyone laugh.

My wife (whose nickname is not Bun, else I be shot) knows when I’m reading something by Patrick McManus because the bed is shaking from my suppressed laughter. And my preteen taught can be heard guffawing when she devours his humor. McManus is a writer for all ages, which gives him a connection to his childhood dog, Strange.

McManus’ humor is where you go when you’ve had a long hard day, week, or month and need to find something to smile about. It never fails, even if it’s a story that you’ve read a hundred times before.

One of his stories, “Sequences,” has become a byword in my household. In fact, it’s an essay much like “A Message to Garcia,” that should be read by all future leaders. The message is simple: Everything is way to complicated, so you might as well just fishing. Or, more realistically, make sure you prioritize fun, because the work will never get done anyway. It has a point, but it is funny, not like this paragraph.

Even for those of us who don’t hunt, the stories that McManus wrote are funny. That’s one of the marks of a really good writer. With very few exceptions, everyone is in on the jokes because they are just good fun. I wish there were more people writing like Patrick McManus.

I’m sad that McManus is gone. He hasn’t written a whole lot lately, but mostly I’m sad that the world is just a little less funny without him. To celebrate his life, I may just do a modified stationary panic in his honor the next time I'm scared.

NOTE: If you are looking for a good place to start with McManus, The Night the Bear Ate Goombaw is one of my favorite collections.

The Night the Bear Ate Goombaw
By Patrick F. McManus

A Fun Activity for your Family

Some extended family time is upon us. Once you’ve exhausted the possibilities for polite discussion, you may be wondering what you should do or talk about.

 In some families, this may be the time that the traditional family game of Twister is launched. However, for those of more sedate minds, other games may be in order. Some games are entertaining, some humorous, some dauntingly boring, and some just plain fun.

 I’m here to suggest a fun game that can fill your afternoon even if you didn’t plan ahead. In fact, all you need for this game is a timer (like the one on your cell phone), some paper, and writing utensils.

 This is a version of Madlibs, but without the prefabricated story.

Photo used by CC License. For credit:  http://ow.ly/zcxK306twQu

Photo used by CC License. For credit: http://ow.ly/zcxK306twQu

 The gist of the game is that everyone will answer a series of questions by writing down a clause of a sentence. At the end, the resultant sentences will be read aloud. Typically much hilarity results, especially if you have an odd assortment of ages, interests, and personalities.

 You’ll want to set a timer for 15-30 seconds (otherwise someone will think too hard), announce one of the questions, have people write on their papers, then fold their answer back and pass the paper along.

 The game can be played with any number of players, however, I would recommend having five or more. We recently played with a group of college students, ourselves, and our kids.

 There are five questions that participants will need to write a clause in response to:

  1.  Who did it?
  2.  What did they do?
  3. Where did they do it?
  4. When did they do it?
  5. Why did they do it? 

Since we just played this game, I’ll produce some of the results below: 

My stinky dad
Searched for the formula to turn iron into gold
At the North Pole
After mother said to
To get back home. 
[Two Participants]
Ate a stack of pancakes
On the moon
As the sun rose and the choir sang Old MacDonald in falsetto voices
Because she forgot bubble gum.
 16 yellow monkeys with names that start with ‘z’
watching TV
in Fred’s stomach
while Ronald Reagan was President
to win one million dollars. 
Everyone in this house
Stacked some coins
On Hoth
As the snow fell on a quiet July evening and the banjo music lilted on by
Because no unicorn had come 
Princess Leah
Landed terribly
In a ramshackle house on the edge of a cliff in Texas
In the 1600s
To feed mom carrots. 
George Washington
Flew upside down deliberately
In New York
On November 18, 2016
To be able to retire early and learn to play shuffleboard. 
 
Doctors in the Soviet Union
Got soaking wet in the rain
In Greece
In 1812
Because no one had ever asked her to the prom. 
Dr. Wierdo
Advertised on the internet
At McDonalds
Before dinner
To destroy the dark side forever. 
A co-op of ladies making and selling jewelry
Did the hokey-pokey
Down by the river side
In the second century of the new republic
Since her mother hadn’t ever seen her left toe uncovered.

Obviously, all of these are a load of nonsense, which is exactly why they were so much fun. If you are bored, or in need of some cooperative levity, I recommend playing this simple game.

Preparing my Defense

Today I defend my dissertation. I imagine it will be something like this video. I'll let you know when I'm done.

Celebrating Bibfeldt

Franz Bibfeldt was conceived in frustration on a Sunday afternoon by seminary students in Chicago many years ago. His conception was driven by the pernicious insistence on keeping the seminary library closed on weekends before Monday term papers. This led to students inventing their footnotes. One such footnote, fabricated and false, led to the birth of the infamous Franz Bibfeldt.

According to his biographers, "Franz Bibfeldt was born in the early morning hours of November 1, 1897, at Sage-Hast bei Groszenkneten, Oldenburg, Niedersaschsen, Germany, and was baptized the same day." His rapid baptism, of course, was to ensure all of the saints were appeased, which would set the course for Bibfeldt's life. "His birth was one day premature, since he was conceived on February 2 after a Candlemas party." There's just enough sex in his life story to make it interesting, but not enough to make it popular.

Like most of the great theologians of the 20th century, Bibfeldt was blessed with a funny name that starts with ‘B’. This has led many greater minds to stardom, like Brunner, Barth, Buber, Bultmann, and Bonhoeffer. In fact, according to some sources, one reason Kierkegaard felt it necessary to publish pseudonymously was because he experienced a feeling of sickness unto death in his name’s unfortunate inadequate first initial. Kierkegaard never hit on the secret to success in his search for a marketable pseudonym; however, hindsight is 20/20.

Similar to most jokes told by theologians, Bibfeldt’s life story has a few groan-worthy punchlines buried in paragraphs of torturous reasoning. (What can you expect from people whose idea of fun is listening to papers being read about immutability, moral agency, and the problem of evil?) At the same time, part of the value a figure like Bibfeldt brings to theology is a critique of the theological enterprise.

Unlike books such as Wildlife in the Kingdom Come, that I reviewed here, or articles like the one on “New Directions in Pooh Studies,” that someone included in an academic journal years ago, Bibfelt is a figure of greater potential.

As Martin Marty describes it in the satirical book, The Unrelieved Paradox, Bibfeldt is a figure who is malleable to the needs of the day: ‘The Bibfeldt ideology has changed after twenty-five years; he embodies the principle of responding-although-he-will-be-changed gone awry. His coat of arms displays the ever-changing god Proteus atop a weathervane, and his motto is the Spanish line, “I dance to the tune that is played.”’

One of Bibfeldt’s most profound, hopeful, and representative theological statement is the inscription he left on a bathroom stall at the University of Chicago Divinity School, “God grades on a curve.”

He wrote his dissertation on the so-called Year Zero problem. After all, we went from 1 B.C. to 1 A.D. What happened to the year in the middle? As a result of this confusion, Bibfeldt has very rarely been physically seen; he tends to show up exactly one year early or one year late. Though artifacts like the scrawl on the stall door described above tend to attest to his reality. Or, at least the possibility of his reality.

There is enough to the story of Bibfeldt (may he live forever) to encourage otherwise respected scholars to publish a book of essays about him. There is sufficient humor in the concept that a known publisher would print said book and even, to the surprise of literally everyone involved, publish a second edition of said book. Of course, it came out as the “18th perhaps 19th anniversary edition.” Whichever it is, it is worth the money. Maybe. If you need a joke.

One of the things that makes Bibfeldt funny is that it is written by people who are making fun of themselves. Too much humor these days is focused on trying to shame people in the outgroup. Viewers only have to look at late night TV and the way that the left uses humor to express their hatred of the right to see this. The one line “gotcha” against the other side’s strawmen is the order of the day.

(Of course, there is some of that on the right, too. The Babylon Bee sometimes takes cheap shots. They also dig in pretty heartily to their own conservative, Reformed foibles, contrary to the complaints of offended liberals.)

Bibfeldt is a figure that is useful for lightly mocking one’s own camp and maybe the other guy, too. However, because Bibfeldt is written in a long form scholarly format, it lends itself to a bit more consideration given to actually being funny and actually presenting the position being critiqued more carefully.

While you’ve probably never heard of Bibfeldt, and probably shouldn’t have, you could stand to read (of) him if you do theology. He’s worthy of a late night guffaw among a group of professional theologians. He’s also worth resurrecting from time to time to highlight some of the errors of the Zeitgeist. The world would be a better place if Bibfeldt studies continue among both conservative and liberal scholars and, from time to time, if new manuscripts are discovered.

Bibfeldt is a man of all seasons and a master of none. He’s an ever present goat in times of trouble, though he tends to be regularly late to dinner when called. The world needs a little more Bibfeldt. Perhaps Bibfeldt, and not more cowbell, is the prescription for the fever of the world today.

Beware the Sea Lion

I learned a new term recently. It can be a noun or a verb. One may encounter a "sea lion," or someone may "sea lion."

The term is drawn from a cartoon in the Wondermark series drawn by David Malki. I've included the image here for your interest.

When I encountered the cartoon, I knew that I had found an amazingly accurate description of a certain online persona.

This cartoon can be found at:   http://wondermark.com/1k62/ 

This cartoon can be found at:  http://wondermark.com/1k62/ 

A sea lion is the sort of person who cannot allow a balloon to go unpricked. Seeing someone post something in public, the sea lion jumps into the conversation. However, the point is not to add anything to the conversation, it is to waste the time of the person who is making the comment.

To be clear, there are times that online conversations can be meaningful, but by definition, the sea lion is not interested in such conversations. Typically he is interested in a) proving himself smarter or more culturally enlightened than others, b) disrupting a conversation he disagrees with, without acknowledging that another person may simply have a different set of presuppositions, c) just generally being a nuisance all while pretending to be the truly mature and civil one, d) silencing speech that he disagrees with and which rely on a different worldview.

Sea lions are annoying, but they are simply a part of internet life. They can sometimes be confused with people who are legitimately asking questions about a topic that they know little about. Recognizing the difference (and avoiding being one) is important.

Some Characteristics of a Sea Lion

1. A sea lion typically recognizes that the comment was not necessarily about him, but chooses to engage it anyway. Some people simply have too much time on their hands, and being the vigilante of the Facebook wall or comments section seems to be their preferred disservice to the world. Never mind that the comment may have been made in jest, intended as a light hearted generalization, or be entirely tangential to the main point; the sea lion boldly goes where no one cares to hear his opinion.

2. A sea lion often plays dumb, attempting to get their victim to fall into a script that they have carefully crafted a rebuttal to. Online debates are often tedious and they tend to fall into certain patterns. College sophomores spend a great deal of time diagnosing those patterns and learning to rebut them so they can look smart in debates. Often the rebuttals are neither fair nor focused on the main point under debate. However, the sea lion is always ready for the unsuspecting fool to play along.

3. A sea lion is often characterized by attempting to move the argument back several steps or by refusing to accept an assumption the other parties have agreed upon. Rarely does the sea lion state that this is his tactic, but attempts to drag the conversation back to his own presuppositions. Often the sea lion is arguing about elementary level concepts when the conversation is on advanced topics that build on a common set of elementary assumptions already agreed upon.

4. Sometimes the sea lion is unaware he has presuppositions. There is an army of ignorant online warriors who seem to be unaware they have a worldview. All reasoning must be done on their terms, because they and only they have rightly reasoned from first principles to final conclusions. They represent truth and all difference in opinion represents a tainted deviation of their truth. This sort of sea lion asks the Christian to prove God when the Christian is debating theories of the atonement. (Let the Christian recognize that of course the atonement is silly and unnecessary if there is no God.) But the sea lion is oblivious that the faith assumption there is no God requires as much suspension of disbelief as any other faith assumption.

5. A sea lion often takes being ignored or told off as "victory." The other parties couldn't face the crushing logic of the sea lion, therefore they banished him. More likely the sea lion is just a bore and was shushed or blocked for habitually trying to subvert conversations.

6. The sea lion assumes that if someone makes a comment, they must follow up if he replies. This is part of the narcissism of the sea lion. Being the sole mind in the universe and sole arbiter of truth, the sea lion assumes that justice entails dealing with his (often erroneous or ignorant) arguments.

7. The sea lion is usually prepared with links from friendly sources that support his position. (Often he selects his topics by the ones where he's found articles and studies that he can use as irrefutable support.) If the victim does not have rebutting sources at hand, then his argument can be dismissed as being unsupported (and likely unsupportable, of course). If the victim does have rebutting sources, these are dismissed as being hack science, paid for by the Koch brothers (or Soros, depending on the topic and side). The sea lion's sources are, of course, irrefutable because Science and Peer Review. If sources are used from a different field than the sea lion is prepared to defend, then these will be rejected as from a flawed discipline.

Dealing with the Sea Lion

There is no perfect way to deal with the sea lion. Often ignoring them is the best way. Blocking Uncle Bob is probably going to lead to tense times at the Thanksgiving table.

Sometimes the sea lion has a point, your argument may be flawed or in an inappropriate venue. (At this point, the person may actually not be a sea lion, so it's important to evaluate the pattern of the person's interactions.)

However, often the true purpose of the sea lion is to silence dissenting opinions. Often this is perceived as a part of social justice on the part of the sea lion. At its best it is a form of annoying thought-policing, at its worst, sea lioning turns into a form of harassment or bullying.

Sea lions are often attempting to raise the social costs of online interactions by being persistent, argumentative (though in their minds always civil), and pedantic. They are typically off topic or in the wrong forum, but they typically aren't the vitriolic troll.

Unfortunately, there is no good way to avoid all sea lions, except by not engaging in online speech that disagrees with them. That is exactly what they want.

Therefore, the best thing to do, it seems, is to speak well, use evidence appropriately, and ignore the sea lions until they go away. Very seldom do people change their minds based on online arguments (I have no support for this, but I know it to be true). I will venture to suggest that no sea lion has ever changed his mind based on an online debate, however much time the victim has wasted.

However, if someone has a peer reviewed study to show me, I might just change my mind.

Wildlife in the Kingdom Come

If there is one thing most theologians are in need of it is a good laugh. After hours of poring over the sometimes terrible writing and convoluted thoughts of people we are generally in disagreement with, a little levity would seem to be a welcome thing.

I was pleased to be introduced to an old, humorous book a few months ago by Bruce Ashford. He credits Paige Patterson with bringing him to the font of amusement. Personally, I don’t care how it got to me. I just think it’s funny.

The book is Wildlife in the Kingdom Come: An Explorer Looks at the Critters and Creatures of the Theological Kingdom. It was written (and illustrated) by Ken C. Johnson and John H. Coe. Cast your memory back to the 1980’s and you may remember seeing Ken Johnson’s name as the creator and writer of McGee and Me! Or, more recently, from his work with Adventures in Odyssey. John H. Coe is actually a trained theologian who is at Biola and, amazingly, actually lists this book on his faculty page.

Wildlife in the Kingdom Come contains several dozen brief discussions of theological movements or elements of theology and a representative drawing. It is very tongue in cheek. It also leaves no theological movement protected, making fun of theologians of every stripe. The footnotes are humorous, too, citing authors such as Clark P. Nock and R. C. Sprawl.

Most of the humor is not highbrow. It relies on puns, caricatures and stereotypes. Of course, if the punchlines were too sophisticated it wouldn’t be nearly as fun to read. Who wants to work to get a chortle, anyway?

Some Quotes

I’ll give five quotes to provide a taste of the book:

“Long ago in an age when the primitive shores of the Textual Critic Coastlands were forming, a fierce and tyrannical giant roamed the earth, the terrible Textus Receptus (TR). Rising from the Erasmus Manuscript Marshes, the TR ruled these lands particularly during the Jurassic Era of King James.”

“Anyone wishing to explore the theological kingdom will inevitably encounter the Problem Passage. This terrifying creature roams the Theological Hillsides and creates extremely difficult going for the would-be traveler. By positioning himself stubbornly on the explorer’s path, the Problem Passage impeded any attempt to forge a trail toward a complete theological system.”

“In the heartland of the Teaching Timberlands that border the Pulpit Prairies thrives the ever-stoic and staunch Expository Sermon. Though less daunting and spirited than his cousin, the Topical Sermon, this meticulous creature is an instinctive digger and a study in discipline.”

“Many centuries ago zealous (and at times, unbalanced) expeditions sought to rid the Great Primitivchuch Plains of a dreaded and poisonous parasite, the Heretic. Found throughout the theological lands, the Heretic is most fond of feeding off helpless hers of Unorthodox and Neoorthodox whose diet lacks any substantial dosages of doctrine of theological presuppositions. Although small and difficult to detect at first, the bite of this malicious little pest can have devastating results. As infection forms around the bite, schism and dissension spread throughout the body of the helpless victims. This condition ultimately gives way to such fatal diseases as Arianism, Modalism, Universalism, and the Ten-Percent Tithe.”

“By far the most beautiful and colorful of all the birds in the Moral Highgrounds is the proud Pelagian. This reigning king of pomp and splendor typically spreads his impeccably plumage for all to see. His feathered feat is usually an unabashed attempt to attract as many admirers as his flock can carry. So impressive is the sight that some have suggested that his brilliant display has a blinding affect [sic]  on the admirers of this unfallen fowl.”

Conclusion

The list goes on. There are pages of these punny quips and sidelong theological references throughout. As a student of theology, I have guffawed, wheezed, snorted, and cackled at some of the jokes. My family things I’m crazy anyway, so that makes no difference.

The biggest downside of this book is that it is out of print. However, I still commend it because there are relatively inexpensive copies available used through Amazon. Trust me, theological friends, this is worth your money. It’s a skinny book, too, so it won’t be that much more weight the next time you move.

Guy on a Buffalo

Sometimes the internet is the bane of human existence, demonstrating how low we as a race have stooped. Meme's relating to the defense of Brittany Spears' public breakdowns, grumpy cat pictures, and defiant babies keep our social media news-feeds full. The occasional misquote of Abraham Lincoln gets thrown in just to keep us on our toes.

Still, there have been few items of high culture shared with the internet population. Of those few items of high brow culture, there are none to rival the "Guy on a Buffalo" videos that came out a few years ago.

I've embedded each of the five videos below for your viewing pleasure. Also, this makes for a quick way to find them again in the future. They are really worth watching repeatedly, much like fine movies such as "The Princess Bride" and "The Three Amigos." I might throw "Goonies" into that mix, too, though something really was lost when the octopus scene didn't make it through the final cut.

In any case, if you missed Guy on a Buffalo years ago I will explain the basic premise to you. First, there is a guy who rides a buffalo. Then a folksy singer provides a musical narration of the events in the short videos. Guy on a Buffalo gets chased by a bear, chases a bear, finds a baby, wrestles a cougar and such like.

I've heard these are authentic videos from early nineteenth century American frontier life, which truly represent how things were. They are, according to some, authentic representations of historical realities known only to some that are experiencing lasting effects of 1970's drug usage. (cough, cough)

Whatever your understanding of their historicity, I hope you find these videos entertaining and will share them with your friends. As a caution, don't consume any beverages while watching these videos, unless you are prepared to have it come out your nose.

Contrary to my tongue in cheek comments above, these edited videos with the humorous songs over the top are made from a 1978 movie called "Buffalo Rider." The premise that a man rescues a buffalo that was going to be eaten by coyotes, raises it and tames it. The movie has, apparently, passed into the public domain. It has made its way to the Internet Archive, a repository for much of our cultural sludge.

The movie itself is poorly made, relies on a narrator, and appears to have actually harmed animals in the making. (This last is really not a good thing.) That being said, the movie is made and I post it here more so you can see where the humorous videos above came from than with hope that anyone will celebrate anything about the original film (which is awful based on the 15 minutes that I was able to watch). 

Here is a link to the original movie at the Internet Archive.

The Choir Member's Lexicon

As you probably know already there is nothing that a church choir is typically more in need of than tenors.  Second only to that is some knowledge of music.  We see the little booklet of black dots and lines in front of us every Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon, but all those symbols do is make neat boundaries around where the words are; that’s all we really use it for.

The previous paragraph isn't entirely true: some of the choir doesn't make it to both morning and afternoon sessions on Sunday.  For those that do, and those that are reading this who have some knowledge of music theory, you will forgive any typographical errors which may cause definitions of certain words to be expressed in ways that you are not familiar with, or cause definitions to appear to be factually incorrect.  Also, for the more rigid lexicographical purists, you will note that I have disposed with the usual alphabetical organization of things because I felt like it.  

As to my choice of words, I have chosen only the words most important for a Biblical understanding of church music: I have trimmed out all the fluff and developed what is a basic guide to choir membership.  Anyway, let’s begin...

A Flat n. The reason that half the choir was late to the Easter cantata.

Crescendov. To increase the volume of one’s voice, e.g. What happens in the Soprano section when the choir director is working with the Baritones.

Bassn. One of the group of men who couldn't be a Tenor. Synonym: general population. 

Soprano – 1.  n. Women who sing the top set of notes in choir music.  2. n. Choir members who can comfortably sing the Tenor line in a David Clydesdale piece.

“Okay, let’s try it again” – 1. Uh, Oh. 2. We’re singing this Sunday? 3. What else do we know that we could sing Sunday?

“This may not be your best gift” -  1. What the choir director tells you at auditions to encourage you in your children’s ministries. 2. A sign that a recording contract isn't in your future. 3. Even Carol Cymbala might not want you.

Alton. A popular brand of mints.

Fermatta n. A soft Greek cheese usually associated with pitas.

A Naturaln. The note that is a step above the range of some Sopranos.

B Flat -   Colloquialism referring to the nature of the Tenors, i.e. “You B Flat.”

Solon. A section of music in which only one person miscounts the number of measures rest.

Decrescendov. What happens abruptly after a solo.

Duetn. A solo for two people. See also: Solo.

Ad Lib v. What the praise team does when the words get messed up on the projection screen.

Mass Confusionn. Congregational Ad Lib.

Forte – 1. Adj. The median age of the altos. 2. Adj. Ten greater than the admitted median age of the altos.

Tenors – 1. n. The blessed ones. The elect. 2. Adj. The first half of the phrase indicating a value slightly greater than nine, i.e. What time did you go to bed?  I don’t know, tenor ‘leven.

Pianissimo -  n. The Italian word for Big Piano.

Mezzo ForteAdj. The admitted age of the gray haired altos.  See Also: Forte.

Quarter Noten. One of those little black dots we don’t look at anyway.

Baritonesn. Fence sitters. 

Mock Draft 1.0 for the Upcoming Pastor's Draft

The coverage of the 2015 NFL draft has taken over sports media. Who is the best player? Who will be drafted first? Which team will blow their future for a marginally better player in this year's draft? These are the pressing questions of the day.

However, a more significant question is out there. That is, who are the top prospects available for the 2015 Pastor's draft? In this post I'll take a modified "Big Board" approach to list my top prospects for this year, with commentary. I'll also stop at five, because that's about how long anyone might care.

1.    David Blakely is the top prospect on my Big Board this year. He’s an all-star student that can really bring the house down when he preaches. The best things about him are that he plays the guitar AND the organ, and he’s got experience as a church janitor because that's how he paid his way through seminary. He comes as a twofer, because his wife will get her MA in Biblical Counselling this Spring, and has spent the last six years working in early child education. She can bring home the bacon and run VBS, which makes this couple the top pick in this year’s pastoral draft. Blakely has no leadership experience, but that makes him ready to be controlled by a solid deacon board. He’s likely to go to Crick River Baptist, who finished at the bottom of their association last year after the volunteer Youth Leader and Pastor ran off together.

2. I think the next prospect off the board will be Eli Felluten, though it's not because of quality. Eli declared for the pastoral draft early by taking an MA instead of the MDiv. He says it’s so he can “get on mission” sooner, but sources say that it was the D- in Hebrew that scared him off biblical languages. At any rate, he’s likely to be off the board early because his name is Felluten and Felluten Baptist Church of Felluten, Alabama, which is in Felluten County, wants an Associate Pastor to serve under Reverend Elvis Felluten, who happens to be Eli’s Grand-daddy.

3. Philbert Dolittle is the near the top of the talent pool in this year's draft. He was a top student in each one of seminary classes and always produced when it came to paper time. Everyone remembers the Hermeneutics paper where he delivered the blow-out 35 page paper on the 15 page assignment. This guy has staying power. The downside is that he comes from a Calvinist system, so there are questions about what kind of scheme he will fit into and whether he can adjust to associational politics in Georgia or Louisiana. I think he's a solid first round pick, but his stock is likely to dip a little come draft day because of the "TULIP" tattoo on his right forearm and his mismatched socks. Though he's got the chops to be an every Sunday starter from day one, his stock may fall until he gets selected as a Youth Pastor at a large church, where his X-Box skills will serve him well, even if his overall talent is underutilized.

4. The next guy on my Big Board is Thaddeus Pig. Pig brings in the bacon at a meaty 302 pounds, 5 feet 7 inches. He has the physical characteristics of the average mid-career pastor, so he's way ahead of the game. Pig is also known to be a top performer at church potlucks. In fact, his numbers were off the charts in calorie consumption at the Combine.  This guy excels at the apt art of alliteration and avoids conflict like a treadmill, so he's a good fit for a number of small churches. His lack of theological awareness was a liability in seminary, but it will stand him in good stead when he gets into their pulpits. Look for this guy to go early and then disappear into the rural church system.

5. Julian Barnsworth is really the best prospect in this year's draft, but I've got him pegged at number five on my Big Board just because he's not likely to get much attention. When you watch the tape on Julian, he's got good delivery. This guy stands in the pulpit and reads the congregation well. He needs a little polish on his sermons, but the intangibles are there and I think he's the most pastor-ready of all the candidates. His theological accuracy is way beyond the rest of the field. However, since all the tape on this guy is in the practice setting and scrimmages--you know, class assignments--it's unlikely he gets picked in the first three rounds. You just can't get a job without experience, which makes it tough for guys like Julian who have families and can't take youth pastor positions. Julian is a second career pastoral candidate who spent ten years as an Electrical Engineer and Supervisor for a major corporation, which should be credited to him as experience, but it's likely churches will be concerned with how well his people skills will translate to the local church. This guy is a late round gem if he doesn't decide to pull out of the draft and get a PhD.

Editor's Note: For those that aren't aware, this is satire. Which, of course, means that it is probably more true to life than I choose to admit. Any likeness of names, descriptions, and personalities in this to anyone you know or have heard of is incidental, because when I wrote it I was going off of stereotypes and not individuals. Really.

On Student Questions

Don’t be that student at seminary (or any other institution of higher learning).

Yes, I’m talking about that one.

Every class has that student who wants to teach the professor and the whole class something.

It goes like this: The student read this book. Or, maybe he’s read several books on a topic. Or, perhaps her pastor taught a series of sermons on a particular topic with a particular slant.

None of these qualifies this individual as an expert. Remember this, lest you become “that student.” The reason students are students is because they do not have the knowledge or expertise that the professor has.

This seems like a simple idea that would be clear to everyone, but educators themselves have allowed "that student" to continue to exist, in part, because they are too soft on ignorance.

Are there bad questions?

There is an adage among educators that “the only bad question is the question you don’t ask.”

This isn’t entirely true. First, there was the time when a student raised his hand to ask where we could get the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I realize this was the first day of class, but that was an insanely stupid question. The professor did a remarkable job in responding graciously. Nevertheless the question was both asked and bad.

The second kind of bad question is the non-interrogative question. This can take two different forms. Sometimes these “questions” can be phrased as comments that are long and rambling, after which the speaker adds, “What do you think?” That is, if they bother to make it a true question at all. These are usually designed more to demonstrate the questioners brilliance or to teach the audience something.

Another form often taken by the non-interrogative question is the “bear trap question.” These are used when a student has a nugget of information––usually trivia––that they want to surprise everyone (particularly the professor) with. These questions are usually tossed out in ways that, whether intended or not, break up the flow of the lecture or discussion. More often than not, they end up making “that student” look foolish to everyone else, though wise in her own eyes. Fortunately for “that student” Scripture is silent on this topic. Or not.

The reality that seems to escape the understanding of “that student” and his inbred cousins is that no one in the room is paying to hear him speak. 

No One Paid for Student Commentary

Everyone that has paid tuition to sit in a class is expecting to gain insight information from a highly qualified professional, usually a Doctor, who has invested countless hours reading, researching, discussing, teaching, are writing about the topic under consideration.

This means that the fact that “that student” has read a recent book is extremely unlikely to shatter the foundations of the professor’s worldview.

In reality, since I’ve been hanging around the academic community for a while, I’ve realized that most new books just rehash old books. Therefore, in the unlikely event that I’ve actually read some new book my professor has not read, he or she has likely encountered the thesis of that book in a dozen books previously.

The democratization of education has led to the feeling that everyone has an opinion that counts. Wikipedia, blogs (like this one!), and growing ease of self-publishing (particularly e-publishing) lend credibility to quackery and foolishness. They also increase the popular misconception that one can make a contribution to any field of interest nearly instantaneously merely once one has done a little research.

If you think this, you are wrong. Feel free to do your research, but please hold all comments and pseudo-questions until the end. This is part of stewardship of the education of you and those in the class with you.

Far from being a mere rant by a student about his peers. I am actually hopeful that this discussion might change lives. Perhaps even yours, dear reader. With that in mind, I’ve included this helpful flowchart for when and how to ask questions. This did not originate with me, but it is so important that it bears sharing across the world and among all generations.

The moral of the story is not, “Don’t talk in class.” Instead, we should demonstrate neighbor love through our class participation. Only ask questions that will contribute to everyone’s understanding. And NEVER ask questions to show how smart you are. Most likely if you do, you’ll only end up looking dumber anyway.


Link photo courtesy of Sean Dreilinger. Used under a creative commons license in an unmodified state. The source of the photo is: http://ow.ly/HzUro