Tuesday, January 30, 2007

‘Parousia Project’ Is on High Alert

Luc Richard Limoges, Staff Writer

Blair Craddock drove slowly along Cesar Chavez Avenue in downtown Los Angeles, his eyes fixed on the crowds gathered on the sidewalks. Only occasionally did his gaze wander to the traffic ahead. Craddock studied every face and every gesture. He was looking for the Messiah.

“We know Jesus is coming back,” said Craddock. “We just don’t know when or where.”

The 42-year-old Craddock is the director and founder of the Parousia Project, the sole mission of which is to “find Jesus as soon as he returns.” The Project has three part-time staff members and more than 20 volunteers who comb the country looking for Jesus. Craddock hopes to expand operations to Canada and Mexico next year, and ultimately, to every country in the world.

Craddock is a former high school English teacher who was converted to Christianity in 2004 after he saw the film The Passion of the Christ. “As I left the theater,” he said, “my chest felt oddly feverish. I truly met Jesus for the first time that day.” At the end of the school year, Craddock quit his job and used his savings to start the Parousia Project.

“We look everywhere,” said volunteer Sylvia Brueggemann. “The Son of Man could be that old guy over there”--she pointed to a transient on the curb--“or some rich executive in Hollywood, or even a kid who goes to the mall and plays video games.”

All Parousia Project members have taken extensive training in Messiah recognition. The group understands that not everyone will be able to identify the Christ when he returns. In fact, Craddock emphasized that many false Messiahs will appear before the real deal shows up.

How will Project members know when they have spotted the real Jesus? “First of all,” said Craddock, “we know that Jesus will be vegetarian. That information is deeply encoded in the book of Daniel. Second, our numerologists have concluded that Jesus will stand between 4’6” and 6’9” tall. A couple of years ago, we mistakenly thought that Shaquille O’Neal was Jesus, but the numbers didn’t fit.”

The Parousia Project keeps a chart, updated in real time, of characteristics to look for when searching for the Christ. The data comes from Project numerologists and code breakers. For example, there is a solid 98% chance Jesus is a vegetarian. There is a 73% chance Jesus will return as a man. There is a 27% chance Jesus will have blue eyes, a 64% chance he will have brown eyes, and a 3% chance he will have one eye of each color. There is even a 20% chance that Jesus will return as an alpaca.

Could this be Jesus?

Craddock and his colleagues are involved in this ministry in order to facilitate Jesus' work when he returns. The sooner they can identify him, the sooner his cleansing work can begin, they assert. Project members want to get in on the ground floor of Jesus’ Second Coming, just as the twelve disciples were during Jesus’ first time around the block.

People often ask Craddock, when they learn of his work, what he will do if he acutally finds Jesus. “At first, I didn’t know what to say. Then, I thought about how I’d feel if I had just made the long trip between heaven and earth. I would ask Jesus if he needs to use the restroom.”

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Monday, January 22, 2007

New Technology Can Super Size Your Pastor

Samantha Tillich, Staff Writer

Church search committees spend months or even years looking for the right match between minister and congregation. A delay in hiring a new pastor can hamper critical ministries and cause turmoil among members. The era of receiving applications and hearing numerous trial sermons, however, may be coming to a close.

The Full Speed Ahead Leadership Group (FSA) has teamed up with the Genzyme Corporation to develop the first genetically modified line of SuperPastors, and their research may reach the market as early as 2010. FSA prepared a list of physical and psychological traits for the perfect minister, and Genzyme’s task is to translate those characteristics into a living, breathing human being.

FSA spokesperson Lily Swenson said the SuperPastor project will change the face of the Christian church’s ministry for the good. “This product will give churchgoers consistent, highly effective leadership and preaching. Within 50 years, every church in America will be able to acquire the type of pastor that only megachurches can afford in today’s economy.”

An FSA press release describes several of the key skills and traits that will be built into every model in the SuperPastor line, including a pleasant speaking voice, empathy, high endurance and the willingness to accept a low salary. Though selection will be limited initially, churches can request a specific gender along with preferences for hair, eye and skin color.

Genzyme will eventually produce many different models, each with a specific orientation, such as Mission, Urban, Suburban and Fortress Mentality. Before committing to a licensing agreement, each church will fill out a survey to identify which model would serve best in that particular setting. Genzyme has also begun work on developing a Youth Pastor model, though efforts in this area have shown far less promise.

Mark Regent, national director of Pastors Anonymous, fears that the new line of SuperPastors will put “natural” ministers at a competitive disadvantage. Regent has filed a lawsuit against FSA and Genzyme to halt production and prevent release of any SuperPastor models.

“These so-called SuperPastors will create cookie cutter churches,” said Regent. "Everything will be the same across the board. Local flavor will disappear entirely, not to mention the threat of greatly reduced genetic diversity among our clergy. A bad year of the bird flu could wipe out 80% of our pastors.”

The bird flu threat is apparently real, Regent asserts, because the scientific process to create a SuperPastor includes inserting pigeon chromosomes into pastoral genes. FSA spokesperson Swenson, however, claims that the process is safe. “The FDA approved the process in 1999. They saw no reason to halt our progress, so I’m not sure why a non-scientist like Regent thinks he knows better.” In addition to the bird chromosomes, Genzyme’s secret, patented process includes a mixture of gene therapy, selective breeding and the lifelong administration of an expensive drug cocktail.

Many rumors have circulated as to the original SuperPastor gene pool. The most common theory is that Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren, Willow Creek Community Church pastor Bill Hybels, and Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor provided the original material. Then, after the first trial models, the scientists sought additional gene sequences to fine tune the first true SuperPastors.

So, do you think you might like a SuperPastor at your church? You may already have one! Twelve prototype SuperPastors have been deployed to churches across the country to test effectiveness and reliability. Since these are blind trials, Swenson would not release the names of the churches involved. She did say that apart from one accidental drowning during a baptism, the SuperPastors have performed well.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Form Before Function for This Disciple

Mark Knox, Staff Writer

If you are like most Americans, the end of the tax season leaves you flat. You have been invigorated by the process, and you wonder why complicated forms are not available every month. One man has come to your rescue.

Carl Smith-Marx, a CPA and elder of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Forest River, New Jersey, realized the annual national letdown following April 15 is a thrilling opportunity for evangelism. About two years ago, Smith-Marx began working on a form he calls “1040-HS” (the “HS” stands for Holy Spirit) that would bring people to Christ.

He insists that it is the process that will make disciples. The questions begin like many other forms--name, address, social security number, dependents--before moving on to meatier questions such as “If you died tonight, do you know where you would go?” By the end, the nonbeliever has an opportunity to make a decision of faith. The final signature line is accompanied by a statement that declares the answers on the form are “true and correct to the best of my knowledge, and from this moment I renounce my sins and accept Jesus Christ into my heart.”

Anyone who completes the form can mail it back to Smith-Marx’s new non-profit called IRS, or “Inventively Rescuing Souls.” There is also an option to file electronically. “Be sure you file before the ‘dead line’ because there are no extensions,” says the IRS web site.

“Everyone knows,” said Smith-Marx in a telephone interview, “that the most effective part of the Billy Graham Crusade is that card. Everyone comes forward just to have the opportunity to fill out the card. It’s pure genius.”

Strangely enough, the one person who is not a believer in Smith-Marx and his plan is John David Cootie, Smith-Marx’s pastor. “Carl has a wonderful heart,” says Cootie, “but he drives me crazy with his forms. It was great when he developed a form for tracking our giving. Then, they just kept coming--forms for copier paper usage, communion inventory, even forms to track my sermon titles. And he wants me to fill them all out. He’s out of control.”

“I know some people doubt me,” said Smith-Marx. “Just remember, some people doubted Jesus, too. If you can imagine a world without forms, you have just conjured up the perfect picture of hell.”

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