The Life of JaWS

A blog by Jason Sansbury

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Random Christmas Eve stuff I am thinking...

Some random Christmas Eve thinking, written listening to Sufjan Stevens' Songs for Christmas, which rocks my face.

1. So I have been thinking about other things I could do for a living. Don't read anything big into that statement yet, but I have been thinking about it so here are some jobs that I think I could be suited for:
- the person who picks the music that goes into the jukeboxes at Waffle House. (Note: I am not saving I could be the person who writes music like "Special Lady at the Waffle House." I am just saying I could make some compelling musical selections for the Waffle House.
- a cool movie theater manager. Sadly, I think I would have to win the lotto and do my own thing. But it would be a cool job for me.
- a professor of youth ministry. Or a Young Life person whose primary responsibilities are training up the next generation of leadership.
- a sports talk radio personality in a mid-major market. The local guys here, wow, they are bad. Atlanta must have spoiled me.
- a writer for a sketch comedy show
- the host of "Waffle House Confessions." The idea is simple. Every week, we spend a whole week at a random Waffle House and ask people to tell us their stories. Then we edit those down and share them on the show. Kinda like HBO's "Taxi Cab Confessions" minus the naughtiness. Here is why I think this show would rock:
a) Waffle House is the great equalizer. It is truly one of the few places where you can see a beat-up pick-up truck, a Hummer and a Lexus in the same parking lot as a Toyota Camry. So the stories would cross socio-economic lines.
b) Every Waffle House I have ever been has someone crazy on staff. (My family has some serious Waffle House connections back in the day; in fact, we may have been the crazy person at some of the stores.) So you are guaranteed one good story every week from someone on staff.
c) Waffle House as a sponsor. While I am certain it would bring my death closer and faster, waffle sandwiches for free would rule!
d) There are Waffle Houses in lots of different kinds of communities. Upscale, suburbs, downtown urban, etc.
e) My brother had great ideas for titles of shows: Week One: Scattered, Week Two: Smothered, etc. Nothing like a shout-out to the hashbrowns of the Wa-Ho. Anyone want to front the money for the first shows?

- the person who revolutionizes high school ballgame concessions everywhere. Okay, seriously...has anyone tried any new food ideas in this market in 20 years? We can do better than hotdogs and nachos. Possible things I would put on the menu- quesadillas, tacos, egg rolls, Bubba Burgers, grilled cheeses, baked potato bar. Some would even say we could try something like sushi. Not me of course because I don't generally eat bait, but other people would say that maybe.

2. Sometimes you are absolutely certain of some things. And I am absolutely positive that my dad does not and will never care about this information: The New York Metropolitan Opera will be broadcasting some shows directly to theaters in high-def. Why am I so certain? My dad doesn't like opera. And my dad never will like opera.

3. It is hard to be single in a new area on the holidays. I am heading to Augusta tomorrow and will spend next week with some of my family. But in the meantime, it is tough. I especially feel for people who can't make it home for Christmas.

4. My niece is 2+ this year, so she is getting the whole idea of Christmas from what I hear. So tomorrow should be fun.

5. I wonder how many people will be at churches today and tonight who don't really understand what we are the One who is the visible image of the invisible God! And Merry Christmas to all!

A Christmas Story...

Below is a piece that I wrote in 1991 for my school's section of the Augusta Chronicle. I thought I would share it with you all on today, Christmas Eve some 14 years later. (Gosh I am getting old...)

One Christmas will be forever firm in my mind. My family had splurged on a live tree, an item we could scarce afford.

And while it was in our home, we nurtured it with love and water, as it watched over our gifts with its evergreen eyes.

On Christmas morning, it shared in our joy, our laughter, our hope. The next day, we carefully removed the lights and ornaments from our new evergreen friend, and with loving kindness my father and I set about placing him in the frozen ground. Through that long winter we watered and cared for our friend.

But when spring came, our friend no longer received the love and needed water from us. We no long cared for him; we lost that Christmas spirit that brought him the water. Spring fever had replaced the love with a busy anxiousness and many errands that did not include care for the evergreen tree.

And as another harsh Georgia summer drought came, the tree became brown and wilted under the sweltering summer heat. Our evergreen friend was dying.

But when the fall came the tree slowly began its healing, shedding the brown needles and soaking up the autumn rain. As Christmas approached, the evergreen needles exploded once again and our pine guardian stood watch over the frozen dead yard we call home.

And we lavished in his love, placing tiny white strings of popcorn on his branches. And he embraced the birds, who sought a reprieve from the harsh winter in his glorious branches.

We are all like this Christmas tree. Through the rest of the year we deprive ourselves of the water of kindness that Christmas brings. And so we wilt and begin to die.

But Christmas brings us the magic back. We explode into that special spirit that makes Christmas so celebrated.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

So, yeah…it’s Christmas…

So to be honest this week has been a curious one for me. I really don’t have much to do at work. We wrapped up youth group on Sunday night and are now in the winter lull, which I hope ends when January and youth group time runs around. (But I am not sure that it will. Maybe more on that some other time.)

So, I have been thinking, praying, reading and writing. I thought I would share some randomness today with the blog world.

1. Back in the mid-1990s I discovered Andrew Peterson. At the time I spent an obscene amount of money on CDs, especially of those of the indie Christian acoustic variety. Andrew wrote a great song about Rich Mullins (“Three Days Before Autumn”) and has been writing amazing stuff ever since.

I have helped put on 3 Andrew shows, though he likely doesn’t remember me. One, I helped when the booking for an Augusta show went bad and we convinced Trinity on the Hill UMC to host it. Two, I brought Andrew and the family to Waycross, GA a year or so later. It was a joint youth group thing that Andrew probably shouldn’t have played but he did and I loved every minute of it.

Lastly, I was serving at a church near Atlanta when our senior pastor was activated and sent to Iraq as a reserves chaplain. One of the things that he said helped him make it through was Andrew’s music. So, as a homecoming gift of sorts, I helped bring Andrew to our church. Again, an amazing show.

All of that to say, I dig Andrew Peterson and while I don’t listen to him a ton, when I do it is always worthwhile. Right now, his Christmas album “Behold the Lamb” is streaming off his website. Worth a listen and purchase if you have that ability. The website is

2. One of my favorite Christmas movie- Die Hard. For real. Also, Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. For some reason, this movie makes me think of growing up on South Street, huddled around the gas heater and watching it on TV with a cup of hot chocolate. Life was simpler for me then…

3. All I want for Christmas: guidance and wisdom. I seem to need a lot of both of those right now. So if you got extra send it my way. Or ask the Giver of good things to help me out. That and I need some basketball shoes.

4. I got a Tennessee tag on my car now. What a long strange trip that was. And the tag office I went to was in the nicest mall in town. I felt like an impostor being there. You can get your $5000 diamond necklace and your car tag in the same place. Bizarre place this Nashville is…

Tomorrow- I will post the note that I am sending out to the church families on Christmas Day. Something I wrote for the local paper when I was a high school senior that was so well received that there were letters to the editor praising it. I am not sure that I think it is that good, but we will post it here anyways. It is a Christmas warm fuzzy...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Fantasy Football Update...

So I made some dramatic moves this week in trying to win a key game. I made some great moves and I absolutely messed up my roster. But, if Carson Palmer can score 3 points or less tonight, I can still win. The reigning champ of the league definitely needs a little help...

Stomach Turning Coincidence of the Day...

Reading on the AJC site about a house in Kirksville, Missouri where 7 bodies were found.
The sponsored ad: Jalapeno Steak Butter Rub.
Something just isn't right...

Review: Pursuit of Happyness

So Saturday after we delivered and laid out the poinsettias at the church, I went and saw a couple movies, mainly because I needed some down time and veg out time from some stuff that is weighing on my mind.

The first film I saw was “The Pursuit of Happyness” starring Will Smith. The basic premise of the film is a true story about Charles Gardner and his son as they struggle through poverty and homelessness while the father is engaged in an unpaid internship to become a stock broker. It is a very moving story and I thought the film was well done. It is set in the early 1980s and the film does a remarkable job of conveying the sense of poverty and hardship that existed in that era, especially among the working poor.

What I Liked About It:

The story telling is unconventional is some ways. While formulaic, there are some turns and moves that surprised me. I also think that the reality of the film makes it painful to watch. A lot of these kinds of genre films have a pace where the main character is pushed around, struggles, wins some small victory, and repeats at the climatic end. For the most part, this story’s pay-off is at the end and I will say the end of the movie is a tearjerker. (I cry at movies and have freely admitted it previously.)

Will Smith is a great actor and I think does an amazing job in this role. Though I don't think it is Oscar-worthy, it is a good performance and something that people should look on with a lot of respect. He has come a long way from being the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Also, the movie stars Will Smith’s real son as the son. He is remarkably good and effective in his role. He does good work but isn’t distracting the way that a child actor could be. And some of the things about his daycare are genuinely funny. (The Asian leader of his preschool has the students watch “The Love Boat” to learn about the Navy and “Bonanza” to learn about history.)

So I would give this movie 8.5 stars. It ran a bit long for my tastes or I would have rated it higher. It won the box office this week and I can understand why.


So I am working today from a Panera Bread Company location, as the Sweet Pickle is down the street being worked on so I can pass emissions and get a Tennessee license plate before the end of the year.

And a guy is here working on his shiny MacBook Pro. And he has left it sitting on the table with no one anywhere near us for the last 30 minutes while he went outside. And I really want a MacBook Pro...

Do churches shape pastors or do pastors shape churches?

So I am currently a United Methodist. (In truth, I would say I am a Christian first, an evangelical second, a Wesleyan third and United Methodist last. That is both in order of importance and truth I think.) And one of the things that I have been spending some time thinking on is the current Methodist system for pastoral appointments at our congregations.

For those of you non-UMCers out there, let me explain how it works. The Methodist church is governed in conferences, each headed by a bishop. These conferences are then subdivided into districts and each district is given a pastoral leader called a superintendent. The superintendents and the Bishop of each conference form the cabinet and that group largely shapes and directs where pastors are sent in a given conference. So a UMC pastor is affiliated with a conference and typically serves in that conference for the duration of his/her ministry. (For you polity specialists, I realize that this is an oversimplification...)

So there are some assets to this system and design. Here are some of them:

  1. Pastors aren’t constantly on the chopping block. They know that at least for a year, they will serve a certain congregation. (Typically June of one year to June of the next.) So there is some freedom there.
  2. The cabinet and bishops are free to help make the best fit between pastors and congregations.
  3. There can be a diversity in the types of churches that a pastor can serve over his/her career.

All of that is theoretical though, as sometimes it clearly doesn’t work.

And this is where one of my thoughts has developed. How much do pastors shape congregations and how much do congregations shape pastors?

In the Methodist system and structure, we value laity. We think that wisdom is generally found in and among the many, not the few. We think that God uses committees and structures to help guide and shape things. The caveat is that in my experience, too many times the lay people of a church abdicate their responsibility to whoever their senior pastor is. So pastors essentially have open reign to do what they want. And in some cases, that probably isn’t a "end of the world" decision. It could help some churches that they take that approach and have a pastor who genuinely wants to move the church forward from its current position.

But, I don’t think this approach is best in most cases. One of the things that I have learned from my nearly 12 years in ministry is that the pastors I respect the most are the pastors that are learners and those pastors are rare in the UMC structure. To put it plainly, pastors have built this idea up that once one graduates from seminary, one has everything that one needs to govern, direct and lead a UMC congregation anywhere in America. (This is an extremely wide brush I am painting with…)

But in truth, most pastors are desperately in need of growth and shaping even after seminary, because truthfully, we are all in need of growth and shaping. But when the lay people of a congregation give away their ability to lead and govern in favor of the CEO pastor model, it falls apart. Suddenly they are making decisions based on trying to make a pastor happy rather than what is in the best interest of a congregation. This slippery slope is incredibly dangerous, as we can easily have congregations degenerate into cults of personality that lose sight of the Gospel entirely.

So why does it matter?

  1. Pastors need to be humbled. Truthfully, all of us in ministry have a certain sense and edge of superiority. And we need the lay people of the church to be God's chisel in our lives. We need people who can ask us hard questions, deal with our rough edges and make us more and more whole. When a church ceases to have people who can lead alongside and even in front of a pastor, then it can end in some difficult places.
  2. Churches need a clear, concise guiding vision of who they are, independent of who their current pastor is. When we say that we are going to allow pastors to singlehandedly determine the vision and direction of a church, then we are playing Russian roulette with every UMC congregation. A church needs a clear and better sense of who it is before a pastor arrives , during a pastor's tenure and after a pastor arrives. (The Presbyterian model of interim pastors who help the church through a visioning process while they are between senior pastors is a remarkably thoughtful and educated model. Could we create UMC pastors who specialize in helping churches rediscover their voice and appoint those pastors for short terms in churches that need it?)
  3. Staff people. Okay, so removing the veil of secrecy…I am the victim of clergy abuse. My therapist says it is okay to say it out loud and to own it. So, I was a victim. I served at a church, was successful in most ways and when a new pastor arrived, I was shown the door in 9 months because I didn’t fit that pastor’s idea of what a youth minister should be. Now, I am not perfect, but I had served this church faithful and well for 4.5 years and suddenly, I am amputated from that body of Christ because of one man’s agenda. We need to treat staff people better than that. Sometimes a staff person will need to move on. And sometimes, staff people who understand and get a church’s guiding vision can help shape the pastors who are new to the congregation.

So what should we do?

  1. Ask bishops and the cabinets they serve to examine some of the biases that they bring to the table. People talk about ladder of the appointment system because to a degree it is very real. But a certain number of years in a system don’t necessarily mean that the pastors are ready for new and different experiences at certain churches.
  2. Consider interim appointment pastors to help congregations shape and get a clear sense of who they are before they begin another long term appointment process. And when a church is able to articulate its vision and who God is calling it to be, it will make the process of placing pastors easier, not harder. And salary won’t be as huge a deciding factor. (Under the current system the staffing committees tend to abandon the ideas of who they are to “woo” the right pastor to their church. This is unbelievably foolish and short sighted.)
  3. Value educational experiences. Listen, churches contribute lots of money to the general coffers of the UMC and sometimes, we don’t get much back. Spend some money, energy and effort to train, challenge and provide environments for growth (personally, spiritually and pastorally) in all our pastors. Maybe each conference should mandate a convention or experience together each year. (Annual Conferences do not serve this purpose!)
  4. Empower laity again. We need to encourage churches and listen to their people. When the lay people of a church think that their current pastor isn’t a good fit, we need to give that voice a lot of weight. Most church folks aren’t vindictive jerks out to shaft each pastor that they are sent. Sometimes a pastor just isn’t the best fit. I know of one bishop that is proclaiming pastors will be in churches for 5 years minimum, no matter what. And while I understand that decision is a desire to breed longevity, it also may absolutely kill some congregations who are told to “work it out” with a bad fit. Bad fits damage pastors, congregations and leaders in the congregation. Sometimes we need to realize that mistakes happen and changes are needed.

Just trying to win friends and influence people…

Friday, December 15, 2006

Review: The Education of Shelby Knox

I stumbled into this documentary somehow in Netflix.
The basic story is that some documentary folks (who clearly had a very large agenda before they began filming...) followed Shelby Knox, a high school student who tried to get more comprehensive sex education in the school system of Lubbock, Texas, where STD and pregnancy rates are really high.

Some thoughts:
1. The agenda is clearly on display. At one point in the extras one of the filmmakers laments that at her son's school the sex education isn't comprehensive enough because it doesn't deal with abortion.
2. The story follows a young lady for three years. It is interesting to watch her change. If I had a solid adult youth team in place, it would be a fascinating movie to watch as a team and dissect. She definitely changes.
3. The youth minister in the film is a horrendous caricature. I hope he watched it and realized what a goofy tool he was. He drops all the standard fundamentalist catchphrases and never seems to really deal with a girl who is being exposed to new things and trying to move towards a more mature faith.

Taking a cue from Alge, the IMDB rating on this thing is 7.8. which is unbelievably high. If I wasn't a youth worker, this movie doesn't have much in it. Even as a youth worker, it is an okay watch. I'd give it a 4.

Two Random Movie predictions...

I wanted to get this on the record.
1. Eragon is going to suck. Want to know how I know? The ads. The relentless money that they seem to have spent to make it the "cool" movie among the kids. (When you are buying ad placement in "Friday Night Lights," that ain't a good sign!) Plus it looks like someone said: "Lord of the Rings" would have been cooler with a young guy driving a dragon. Plus, a first time director that was previously a visual effects person. Bad combination. (I have never read the books, etc. that this is based on.)
2. The Pursuit of Happyness will be good. Will Smith. A true story. It has all the markings of a good, solid movie. I am sure I will cry, though in a manly way.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Being a "Free World-er"

So Tuesday, the staff at the church I work at went to a maximum security prison and helped deliver gifts.

Honestly, I can say that I wasn't looking forward to the experience. For starters, I wasn't sure about what to do, say, etc. I mean, while I may feel like some of the folks in my church deserve jail, I don't routinely deal with folks in prison. (That was a joke people! A joke!)

But in the end, I am very thankful that I went. I delivered gifts to four different guys. Two were on death row and will never get out. They will literally meet their Maker from the place where they are right now. The other two had been in a long time, over 10 years each and neither was much older than me, if at all.

So what did I learn...
  • Guys in jail call folks like me Free World-ers
  • Things that I take for granted have immense value when you can't get them. (The things that the guys loved the most were socks and shampoo...)
  • Being "free in Christ" means something totally different when you are locked up in jail...
  • God is bigger than I think most days.
One of the inmates, James, shared with me his story and how God used jail to bring him to understand who Jesus is now. And now Jesus is using him in jail to reach other inmates. James' passion was startling and amazing considering the "world" that he could win is maybe 20 guys who are locked up in the same cell block as he is. Yet, he is convinced and believing that God has called him to win that world.

A couple of my guy wanted to know what church, etc. we were all from. I was so thankful to be able to say that we are all simply the body of Christ. Methodists, Episcopalians, Baptists, Seventh Day Adventist, pentecostals. All simply together trying to be the hands and feet of Jesus together. I think it definitely gave him pause to realize that when the church is able to move past its denominational differences it really does start to be the Body of Christ.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Random Top 10...

So much has been going on in my little life since I last posted. Here is a quick review, in no particular order.

1. Youth stuff seems to be going well. I still am feeling like I am short handed and all, but the overall vibe of what we are doing is working. Sunday is our youth Christmas party and I am fairly stoked about that. Got some fun and goofy things planned. Plus, there will be presents involved and presents are always good.

2. The Sweet Pickle, cagey veteran road warrior that it is eclipsed the 150,000 mile marker. Very soon it will be completely paid off. If I can just manage to get it to pass emissions here in Nashville, I will be set. I need to do a Sweet Pickle tribute post this weekend...

3. Church stuff- oh boy. The long and the short is that there are some financial issues and the church is working out what it wants to do with next year's budget. I am simply praying for wisdom and discernment for everyone involved.

4. It is a strange feeling to be yelled at by a creditor on the phone and knowing that I have nothing worth them seizing. Very bizarre. And they are very rude. Like rude to the point of anger. Which they shouldn't be because a quick Google search provides one with their address. (I was looking to send one of those "Cease and Desist" letters to them, because they wouldn't give it to me, which is a violation of the law.)

5. It snowed this morning. Now, it didn't stick to the ground or anything but it snowed. Like enough so that in Atlanta, I would be swinging elbows, bowing up and fighting for eggs and bread and milk, even though I only use milk. Here it was like no big deal. And I realized that if it ever really does snow, there is no way I could make it to work with some the hills between my apartment and my office.

6. Went to the National Youth Worker's Convention. Long and the short- it was great, as always. Really liked Starfield leading worship, though I missed the Crowder moments. Heard some great talks and went to a really, really great seminar- Marko's "Leading Through Change." I owe him a "Atta boy!" email. (And I learned that other people have been punched by a senior pastor and fired because a handful of people didn't like them.)

7. Been reading. Slowly. Reviews forthcoming...

8. We had a programming staff meeting yesterday and it was fantastic. Worked on Lent and that time frame. Felt good to do some team planning and have some needed discussions. 9 AM until nearly 4 PM. On a Wednesday. At the end, I was severely brain drained and still had a full night of youth stuff, which when all of that is added to my convention crud cold, it made for a long night. Feeling better today and will request that in the future such meetings be Tuesday meetings.

9. Headed towards the end of the fantasy football season. Hasn't been a stellar season but I have had a good year, anchored by Steven Jackson and Warrick Dunn at RB and Tom Brady at QB. In the rising rookie report, Vince Young has been fantastic for me, and considering he was my last pick in the draft, that has been good. This week I battle the Mighty Edina Colonials, so we will see. Two men enter and one man gets a better draft position next year...

10. I love the TV show "House." I am about halfway through season 2 and it was great. I also tried to watch some "Entourage" and just don't get it. If it had a good cast, maybe. It is a show being carried on the idea that it is a good concept with no execution. Best thing I am watching is still "Heroes" and "Battlestar Galatica."