Thursday, December 22, 2005

Preparing for Christmas

Sweeping, mopping, tidying, cleaning, vacuuming, and preparing the halls for decking -- hours of labor! Making cookies, fudge, cakes, and pies... preparing for Christmas dinner (be it ham or lamb or goose or roast beef, with whatever vegetables and such seem right this year). Finding the floor in my office space after what seems like an endless fall semester, as life at the church becomes even busier than in November!

However hectic, "these are a few of my favorite things...." I can't complain -- much -- or at least I shouldn't. I love much of the Christmas bustle, and even enjoy the excitement at church. Our churches are often filled with wonderful carols, and at least at this time of year, we create festively decorated worship space (though I wish we could do more of that for other seasons of the year). Christmas day comes, and the wonderful texts from John and Hebrews proclaim the real meaning of Christmas -- "And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth."

It might surprise you to discover, after all these affirmations, that Christmas isn't my favorite holiday. I'm really more of an Easter person. Not only is it the central feast of the Christian faith, nativity without resurrection would be utterly pointless. Despite the "uncertainty" of why Christmas is when it is that many moderns accept as gospel truth, or the suggestion that December 25 was simply a date that derived from its proximity to pagan festivals, the fact is that the early church probably selected the date of Christmas (or Epiphany, in the East: December 25/January 6) based on their relative dating of Easter (Thomas J. Talley is the best source for this information -- but this site has a good review of his work).

So let's really remember "the reason for the season," this year. Christmas is the feast of the Incarnation, and if God had not become Flesh, Jesus' crucifixion would be no more salvific than the execution of anyone else. Let's not cheapen the Nativity of our Lord by reducing Christmas to a "Happy Birthday Jesus," or a festival of "oh, the meek little baby Jesus..."

Instead of singing "Away in a Manger," and leaving it at that (as fun as that is), let's all listen to "Of the Father's Love Begotten," at least once (though doesn't have the text, it's #184 in the UMH), and remember that the author of Hebrews has it right:
In these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
Merry Christmas, one and all!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A limited invitation for Coffee -- if you're ever in Boston...

Shane Raynor has ruffled a few feathers this week with his post about sin. I've spent enough time with both theological liberals and conservatives to know that many on both sides believe the others will never listen to reason or change their minds -- and some of the comments evidence just that.

Heated discussion can be great... it proves we're not dead -- but not everyone is good at it. I'm sad to say, many of the ad hominem attacks came from conservatives, but perhaps something good can come from reading all the vitriol. I believe it has for me.

I'll leave the critcism oblique -- for those of you who comment on Wesley Blog, and who probably don't care what I think, being socially and theologically conservative doesn't excuse acting gracelessly toward Joel Thomas, Josh Tinley, or anyone else. That doesn't excuse anyone who is socially and theologically liberal acting gracelessly toward anyone else -- but at least in this tread I haven't witnessed much of that. I'll grant that Joel's rhetoric was pretty thick at times, as was some of Shane's original post, but neither was graceless -- just pushing the envelope. If we can't do that, we'll lose all the benefits of heated discussion, so that we can all feel good all the time. Isn't that what's wrong with our current denominational conversation (or lack of conversation) about sin?

Shane's right, "Many of us don't know how to deal with sin, our own or anyone else's." The problem is, that's very un-Methodist of us. In fact, as Wesleyan Christians, we've always believed in the possibility of sinless living through the power of the Holy Spirit working within us to perfect us -- because Jesus' sacrifice has saved us from sin, not just the consequences of sin. That's why Shane's post is so valuable.
God ordained Jesus to deal with sin. He doesn't handle it by encouraging it, condoning it or ignoring it. He takes it away. He wipes it out. He destroys it. We are no longer forced to wallow in our own brokenness and shame. "Christ carried our sins in his body on the cross so that freed from our sins, we could live a life that has God's approval. His wounds have healed you" (1 Peter 2:24). Let's stop preaching an anemic gospel that accepts everyone but leaves them powerless against the destructiveness of sin.
Whatever our disagreements about the particularities of sin might be, sexual and otherwise, I see Josh Tinley and Joel Thomas wrestling with the seriousness of human sinfulness, and trusting in the power of Christ to help us overcome it. Similarly, I see that in the grace and wisdom expressed by John the Methodist and John Wilks.

As United Methodists we need to struggle with the issues of personal and communal sin, and try to overcome both. Personal sin makes each of us anemic ministers of Christ to a broken world. Our failure to deal with the communal sins of slavery and racism have left the Methodist movement racially divided -- a scandal before a watching world. I am convinced that the United Methodist Church cannot be truly United, until it includes those churches who left the Methodist Episcopal Church over slavery and racism -- the AME, AME-Zion, CME, and Free Methodists especially. Later, our rejection of "enthusiasts" drove a wedge between some Wesleyans and others, providing a driving force for creating the Holiness denominations. Is this a communal sin for which we need to repent? Especially in the post-charismatic renewal era?

Some of us (liberal and conservative alike)want to address communal sins of the United States. We need to confront a world that exploits the weak, wounded, oppressed and impressoinable, that finds the use of violence an easy solution to almost any problem, that continues to employ capital punnishment, that entices us to licentiousness, drunkenness, addictions of all kinds, dependence on the state and charity, and an endless list of other evils that drive both communal and personal sinfulness.

Christ is strong enough to overcome all our sins, and the sin of the whole world, but I don't know if the UMC is. We, I fear, are very broken, very weak, and can only overcome in Christ's strength (2 Cor 12:9-10). For the sake of our communal witness, I propose we deal with the sins of our own community first -- both because it would improve our witness to the world as we prophetically confront corruption and sin, and also because we might be more able to reach agreement about the importance of confronting a wide variety of societal issues. Truly United Methodism might have confronted slavery and effected a powerful change in our history -- even fairly United Methodism made great strides to confront the evils of alcohol abuse in the 19th century -- but today, we have become less effective because of our divided witness.

Joel, Josh, John, and John (and Shane too) -- if any of you are ever in Boston, please accept my invitation for coffee. I respect your passion and commitment to the Gospel, at least as exhibited in this comment thread. If the United Methodist Church is to remain "United," we need more people willing to engage in heated conversation, with the help of God's grace, to discern the will of God for our life togehter, and to help us confront all of the sins that oppress us. Perhaps the worst of these is evident in the way we treat each other -- not as imperfect siblings who disagree, but as minions of demonic forces trying to destroy Christ's Church -- or should I say "OUR Church" -- from the inside?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Mongolian UM's Celebrate!

My conference might be losing net-membership, but the UMC is growing in Mongolia! In my opinion, this is the best news to hit the United Methodist wires this week!
New York, NY, December 8, 2005-More than 300 people gathered in late November in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia to celebrate the fin that ancient Asian land immediately north of China.
One step at a time. Perhaps one day a "missionary" from the Mongolia Annual Conference will bring the Good News to Noarth Americans, in gratitude for the UMC bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to Mongolia.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

If Jesus isn't God, why bother?

I've wanted to ask that question several times to colleagues at seminary, but why would someone want to continue to be a pastor if she doesn't believe Jesus is God Incarnate? Maybe to "preach faith until you have it," but that doesn't seem to be the goal... at least from this story.

I'm all for diversity of ideas, as long as we agree on the core tenents of Christianity -- and I don't think you can get much more core than the Divinity of Christ -- without that, why aren't we just Reform Jews?

In terms of what our clergy should teach -- when is publicized disagreement with the Discipline or Judicial Council acceptable while acting as an ordained or licensed United Methodist? Maybe this Rocky Mountain Protest is All About the Spin... maybe we just "spin" the Judicial Council decision differently -- but I'm not convinced it's that simple.

What doctrinal assent, if any, do you think we should expect from United Methodist clergy? Laity? Should we accept that anyone who calls herself or himself a Christian is, or are there limits to Christianity? Any thoughts?

Thanks, Shane, Parbar West, and Mike Barker, it's hard for all of us to keep up-to-date all the time, especially for news beyond our own conferences.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Go figure... a cult classic

I guess I can't complain about being compared to Office Space and The Big Lebowski -- on some level I've always admired the way The Dude could be so laid back about the insanity of his life.

The Movie Of Your Life Is A Cult Classic

Quirky, offbeat, and even a little campy - your life appeals to a select few.
But if someone's obsessed with you, look out! Your fans are downright freaky.

Your best movie matches: Office Space, Showgirls, The Big Lebowski

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Advent of my dreams -- or something like it...

For years now, I've looked forward to the time where I could spend an entire liturgical season in one place -- yes you heard me right, a whole liturgical season... Just Advent to Christmas, or Lent to Easter -- I'll even cede the second half of the cycle (Christmastide or the paschal pentecost)! These are central times of the Christian year -- the two "penitent" seasons leading up to the two great feasts -- times I'm convinced should be spent with a local community for the sake of mutual support...

Alas, since I went to college, I've rarely been able to spend the entire cycle in one place -- let alone in a community that takes these seasons as seriously as I'd like. I keep looking forward to a time when that will be possible....

This year, in some sense anyway, I'll be spending all of Advent in one place -- the church where I work -- straight through until Christmas Eve services! So far, so good! Christmas day, because my commute to work is as long as it is, I'll spend the time with my wife and attend her church, but the time is finally here!

Somehow, the pressures of the ordination process, the crunch of the end of the semester, and too little time to spend with my wife in the midst of everything drags on the idyllic nature of my ideal Advent, but I'm still thrilled to be so close! Now, when Lent and Easter come (and I can do Ash Wednesday all the way to Easter -- or better yet Pentecost in one place...), then I'll be truly extatic!

If I told you about the last few weeks you'd understand...

I've been keeping extremely busy with coursework, youthwork, and a preaching date while spending time with family over Thanksgiving. No, that's not an excuse for not blogging at all, but it's something, I think.

The next week or so is crunchtime at BU, so there'll probably be a lack for another couple of weeks, too... Sorry, dear readers (whoever's still out there!)...

Friday, November 18, 2005

Holy Conversation

I've started writing a post several times over the last two weeks, but it's never gotten more than a sentence before I've given up. Over that time, there's been family stuff, charge-conference stuff, ordination stuff, school stuff, and continued talk about the recent Judicial Council decisions flying around me. I guess if I'm going to get back to blogging, I'll need to "data-dump" some of that.

Yesterday, Bishop Peter Weaver visited the School of Theology at BU for "Holy Conversation" about the recent decisions. Those students who are deeply committed to changing the position of the UMC in relation to ordination of sexually active homosexuals didn't seem happy with Bishop Weaver's rather moderate response. One said in my hearing, "He didn't have to bring charges against Beth Stroud -- there were other options -- if he really believed in justice he would have risked his job to defend her ministry!"

I'd expect that from students who are deeply committed to advocacy, but the former Dean of the School, who is now Dean of the Chapel told Bishop Weaver he thinks that the paragraph saying that "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" is "bad theology." The Bishop disagreed, I think clearly, citing the New Testament sexual ethic that emphasizes the importance of celibacy, the proper role of marriage, and the persistent reference to only heterosexual marriage in the New Testament. Our Dean countered with the statement that "all of that is in the context of polygamous heterosexual relationships," which made the following discussion a bit convoluted...

Over all, the Bishop's call for conversation among all United Methodists were dismissed by the pro-gay students as impossible, inappropriate, and insincere "as long as some people are prevented from being ordained by Church law." Apparently, we can only have conversation if we first agree to ordain "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals."

I'm not convinced that would further discussion. If the UMC agreed to ordain "self-avowed, practicing homsexuals," would the more conservative members/clergy stay with the UMC long enough to have a conversation? Would the conversation be more fruitful, since any change at that point would be "introducing discrimination," to the Church? If we cannot have a conversation, unless one side gets its way first, why should we try?

For me, there's another issue in this conversation that doesn't come up much: Can we have a church without discrimination? I think not. We might want to determine what kind of discrimination is appropriate, but if the United Methodist Church is to remain a distinctive Christian denomination, and not just become a social club, we need to expect our members to consent to our doctrine, or at least to be willing to be shaped by it, and grow into believing it. Also, we need to be able to say that our clergy should meet some standards of educational competency, doctrinal integrity, and that they will live exemplary lives of Christian holiness. We might not agree what that looks like, but it will require to discriminate between candidates for ministry.

I want the conversation. I can admit I might be wrong, and I'd be willing to listen to biblical reasons why we should think differently about homosexual behavior than the vast majority of church tradition has. I'll even listen to insights from human experience and modern science to help us understand what the Bible has to say to us, but we can't have the conversation unless everyone is willing to admit that they could be misreading Scripture and the insights of the contemporary world.

That's basically what Bishop Weaver said, and it was rejected by some as insensitive. I think it's the best way to save the UMC. It would require putting agendas on-hold, though perhaps as a good-faith measure and not formally, waiting for long-term careful reflection, and an end to the unfair rhetoric by both sides that conflate homosexual orientation and homosexual behavior.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Insights from Anthony Gittins

This particular post grew out of a paper I submitted for a seminary class. I'm posting excerpts from it because I've been looking for a new, creative way to talk about the Christian responsibility not just to offer, but also to accept hospitality in the way of Jesus. For what it's worth, here it is:

Over the course of his book, Ministry at the Margins, Anthony J. Gittins deals with a series of significant issues for cross-cultural Christian mission. Over the first four chapters, Gittins discusses a series of issues for Christian mission that deal with the powerful forces surrounding and contained in language and culture. Over the course of the second half of his book, Gittins deals with particular issues involved in mission: making the Gospel meaningful in the language and culture of particular people; the problems Western missionaries might encounter by failing to understand gift-exchange, and how to learn to live in indebted ways to be part of a group; and learning how to be understanding and hospitable to strangers, as well as the virtue in learning how to be a “missionary as stranger.” I believe this final insight is key – to be a Christian in mission we need to learn how to be good strangers and guests.

Gittins inspired me to think of mission, both abroad and at home, in new and different ways. I found in his descriptions of gift giving, gift-exchange, hospitality and strangers a world I know, but I am not sure if I know it well enough. I grew up in a Western, middle class world, defined by its values and goals. While my parents tried to instill in us a sense of “Christian differentness,” and our responsibility to serve others in the name of Christ, the world around us reinforced its values whenever it could: Call before you arrive on someone’s doorstep, pray quietly and inwardly – most people do not want to see your religious life, make sure you are dressed right, and always think about the risks of accepting any kind of “charity” from others!

For me, Gittins emphasis on accepting hospitality helped give words to thoughts that have been growing within me over the last year. Gittins suggests that part of the missionary life requires learning to be a stranger and a guest: “If we are to be as Jesus was, we cannot be content to help strangers: we must become strangers ourselves (145).” Only by becoming strangers who can let others fulfill our needs can we truly learn to be like Jesus. Accepting gifts of eggs, tomatoes, honey, zucchini and other produce from members of a rural church is fairly easy (and vital for building good-will), for any pastor. These may be simple gifts, but accepting them allows a relationship to begin. Rejecting them, for anything but a clearly defined, mutually understood reason, could jeopardize the relationship between that person and the pastor, and in some cases, the whole church or community and the pastor. My wife currently serves a small, rural church – the eggs, honey and vegetables members of her congregation have offered us have enriched our table, but accepting them has enriched her ministry and made our offers of hospitality more appealing to members of her community – they know the relationship is not merely one-way.

More difficult for me, however, has been finding ways to commute to seminary the last three semesters. When my wife was appointed a significant distance from school, and I had to give up my job to make the move possible, and we knew we could not afford for me to pay for housing while attending classes. The long days of classes, the need to do work in the libraries, and the price of gasoline, parking, and public transportation, made daily commuting impractical. I stayed with a long-time family friend for awhile, as well as with my wife during the time she kept her job as a hotel desk-clerk, but most often, I stayed with one of my wife’s friends from seminary and her husband. I had met
Adrienne and Peter, but I didn’t know them. Their hospitality, and my financially-mandated humility that compelled me to accept it, has allowed us to develop friendships. Without learning to be a stranger/guest accepting hospitality, these relationships would never have developed.

If we are not willing to become strangers and guests, I am convinced we will never be effective hosts or communicators of the Gospel. Marginal ministry requires us to cross boundaries into new and exciting worlds, and while we can offer the Good News of Jesus Christ to others, if we are to be taken seriously, we first need to learn to walk as Jesus walked, which means not only feeding the poor, oppressed, and sinners, but eating and living with them in their worlds, their homes, and their circumstances – that is where Jesus built relationships that became transformational, and that is where we will too.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

I guess the carrots are off until next week...

While flossing last night, a piece of a new filling came out onto my tongue. No, I wasn't impressed! I have a pretty good dentist, but apparently the "contact" with the neighboring tooth was so close that the filling came with the floss, like so much plaque and food refuse. So today, I have a hole in my tooth that's slightly cold sensitive.

I'm writing a sermon today -- don't do it every week right now, it's an occasional part of my current job (5th Sunday of the month and when needed), and it's harder to do well when you don't do it all the time (in my limited experience). Anyway, I'll tackle this issue too, as God gives me grace to do it -- but first, I think it's time to see if this thing's heat sensitive... I need coffee.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Phoebe Palmer

In a course on the Holy Spirit, we're currently being required to read both John Wesley and Phoebe Palmer for a weeks discussion on Pentecostalism. We United Methodists often forget that the thinking of John Wesley and Phoebe Palmer (along with some notable others, like Fletcher, Asbury, and Charles and Susanna Wesley) were extremely significant in shaping both 19th century Methodism and both the Holiness Movement and American revivalism. Later, these two movements, with deep and abiding ties to Methodism gave birth not only to Wesleyan-Holiness churches (like the Free Methodist Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Salvation Army, the Church of God (Anderson), and others), but also to Pentecostalism (especially in its Holiness form exemplified by the Pentecostal Holiness Church, the Church of God in Christ, and the Church of the Foursquare Gospel). In the later part of the Twentieth century, Pentecostalism reintroduced enthusiasm (though now modified from its early 19th century campmeeting days) to other Christians in the Charismatic movement.

All of these forces to affect American and global Christianity began as movements seeking the power of the Holy Spirit for abundant Christian living. Phoebe Palmer's Tuesday Meetings were extremely significant in shaping 19th century Methodism, and the Holiness movement declined in Methodism only shortly before the Methodist Church in North America began its statistical decline in percentage of the American population identifying as Methodist as well.

I'll lay out my cards: I'm not a "good" Holiness person, but I definitely identify with that part of the United Methodist tradition in many ways. Re-reading Phoebe Palmer's work for class this week, I realized how much my own reading and my education had caused me to speak about Christian faith and life in the language of Phoebe Palmer and the Wesleys -- not just John and Charles Wesley, but Phoebe Palmer means Methodism for me in a very important way! I agree with her exegetical argument for the ordination of women, I basically agree with her explanation of Christian perfection, and I've even been known to use the language of baptism by the Holy Spirit and to talk of Fire-baptized life in much the way she would. I've also learned to speak of the Cleansing Flood of Jesus' blood, largely from Phoebe Palmer and her family and friends (Phoebe Palmer Knapp and Fanny Crosby, especially).

I am convinced that rediscovering the vitality that made 19th century Methodism the most influential movement for evangelizing the United States needs to begin with a renewed focus on the distinctives of our Wesleyan heritage, both as exemplified in John and Charles Wesley's writings, and in Phoebe Palmer's work as well. If we want to live like Methodists, I'm convinced that first we need to learn how to talk like Methodists, and the seminal Methodist language derives from John and Charles, Phoebe Palmer, and their friends and students in what it means to be Methodist.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

GBCS -- Why should we leave?

Apparently, the General Board of Church and Society has decided that withdrawal of American troops from Iraq is a good idea. Don't get me wrong -- I'm an eschatological pacifist, I'm never in favor of war, but as a trained historian, I'm not sure the GBCS's reasoning is entirely appropriate. Politically expedient? Sure. In keeping with American patriotic ideals? Certainly. Cognizant of the real, long term implications for Iraqis? I'm not so sure.

This particular proposal is not so bad -- and grows out of a sense that the Iraqi people both can and should be trusted with increased responsibility for their own stability. However, the GBCS's reasoning for the withdrawal -- the tired list of inaccurate reasons for entering the war in the first place, defies what I learned about the use of just war criterion. It seems that because American intelligence proved wrong, and the primary reasons presented to the American people for removing the Ba'athist regime proved unsubstantiated, that proves that the war is unjust and should be ended for that reason.

Hold on -- isn't just war theory supposed to critique the prosecution and resolution of war, just as much as determining the criterion for going to war in the first place? Aren't the methods of warfare used, and the long-term benefits to be measured as well? As John at Locusts and Honey cited James Lileks:
On one level, you can’t be in favor of the Iraqi vote and opposed to the war. On another level, you can, but it’s a happy chocolate land where the fountains spout fudge and the bunnies are edible and Saddam relinquishes power, ashamed, because Kofi Annan drafted a stern letter promising Serious Consequences, and some Iraqi Gandhi not only showed he was morally superior to the Tikriti gang, but had a titanium-hulled body that made him impervious to torture shredders. And then the Baathists devolved and the Rotarians took over.
I'd like to offer an alternative -- you can be in favor of Iraqi voting, and be against this war as well -- if you're against all war and simply see this as one of the not-so-bad things that comes out of all the coercion, oppression, and force used by government. This applies to what good comes out of any government -- all of which coercively extract taxes from their citizens, all of which coercively restrict freedom for the maintenance of civil society, and all of which inflict punnishments on the guilty (and too often on the innocent) to control people.

The GBCS wants American troops to leave Iraq because according to a certain set of criteria the war should never have happened. Simultaneously, they're using that reasoning to support a good proposal for withdrawal (in geopolitical terms), that recognizes the time has come to begin withdrawal because it would increase Iraqi responsibility without destabilizing the country and thus threatening its citizens. Maybe the GBCS needs to hire some new ethicists to write their position papers -- Congress has made a better just-war argument for withdrawal than they have... and they're stuck complaining about the sins now banished to the irreperable past.

Monday, October 17, 2005


The slugs have been getting to our garden. First it was the summer squash -- that started early this summer, then the cabbage -- and finally, the tomatoes that hang too close to the ground and the summer squash and butternut squash vines.

Yes, the growing season is almost over -- this is the last hurrah of the harvest before the cold of winter really begins to set in here. I've grown to hate slugs with a passion -- the little vermin will destroy all my hard labor in short order if I let them. They're not all that bad one at a time -- but in swarms just after torrential rains like the last couple of weeks have brought, they'll do their damage rapidly. Really, they've taken a toll on the summer harvest as well -- if much more slowly.

Garden slugs are a lot like sin. One at a time they'll blend in to the soil that nourishes the garden, almost invisible except on close inspection, all the while wreaking havoc, if slowly, almost imperceptively, on the final harvest to come! "One little slug isn't so bad -- nothing will come of ignoring it..." we might be tempted to say.

Similarly to slugs, sins sneak into our lives because one at a time they seem so insignificant. Ignoring the homeless woman selling flowers isn't so bad -- she'll find the shelter again tonight; yelling at the receptionist isn't much of a sin -- he'll recover from this berating; one more pack of smokes won't be the one that kills me, one more visit to the adult theatre, one more binge at the local dive, one more gluttonous evening of aimless gorging on potato chips, just a couple candybars on five-finger discount, or two or three DVD's, one more week without going to worship, one more joint, one more hit, one more trip to a prostitute...

Did the prostitute get your attention? The drugs? That visit to the prostitute, that hit's just another slug, just after all the earlier ones, the garden's not looking so great anymore... If I neglect my garden, I won't have a harvest, but if I neglect my fidelity to Christ, if I let all of those little sins creap in, to overtake me, to turn me away from the Gospel and toward sin -- then He will be without a harvest, at least in my case. Not only will my life not bear fruit, the shoot will wither, dry, die, and rot -- and only the most amazing grace will be able to do anything about it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

My Peanuts Alter Ego

Thanks Gavin... Accurate? Maybe, maybe not. Entertaining? Absolutely!


You are Franklin!

Which Peanuts Character are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Monday, October 10, 2005

Catching Fire....

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Exodus 3:1-2

It's that time again in central New England. I haven't really seen the signs in Boston yet, but out to the west where we live, the signs are clear that the harvest is just about past, and the season of burning bushes, maple, oak, and poplar trees is upon us. My tomato plants have begun to die -- not the heartier heirlooms yet, just the early producing hybrids that fed us in late July and early August. The cabbage are about ready to be picked, and the butternut squash are reaching their potential as a result of their late planting.

The next big event is coming quickly -- fully colored foliage. Exodus records that Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up." Exodus 3:3. Soon, many people who know why the trees burn with vibrant colors will turn aside to see them, stopping to look at the briliant patchwork of reds, yellows, oranges and passing greens as the trees give up the verdant splendor of summer for their bare, hardened winter appearance. We know they will only feign death -- that in the spring the buds and flowers will display once again the colors of autumn, only in softened pastels -- the appearance of death will give way to vibrant signs of new life.

Before spring must come winter, as New England finds itself once again blanketed in snow, at first appearing pure and comforting, but winter is a harsh mistress, who will make sure some of the trees will not stand until spring, despite their hardening to survive her assault. Some will crack, snap, and fall under the weight of frozen snow and ice -- others may be uprooted by cruel nor'easters bringing seemingly endless biting-cold winds.

Maybe the trees know what's coming. Maybe they display their colorful, vibrant splendor each fall as a defiant challenge to the winter to come: "Do your worst! I have emblasoned myself in the minds-eye of many! I have made myself immortal by moving the human spirit to tears! Do your worst, Icy-One, your time is but short, fleeting, but the child I have inspired will carry that firey passion for a long time to come! Through her paintbrush, I will live forever!"

Go Habs!

My fantasy hockey team (Yeay! Hockey's back!) is made up of 3/4 Montreal Canadiennes... Go Habs, carry my mediocre fantasy squad to victory!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Reaching Young Adults

I'm sorry to say, if we want to make disciples of Jesus Christ, inviting young adults to join us in social work probably won't do it. I think about these issues occasionally, I work with youth, and I have a passion for reaching young adults with the Gospel, even though I'm not always entirely sure how to do it. After reading Shane Raynor's post So Many Agencies, So Little Time: The Challenge of Reaching Teenagers and Young Adults, I decided I'd take the risk and weigh in on the issue of reaching young adults.

I'm sure many of you are interested in how to reach teens -- well, it's not that different from reaching young adults, and here's where churches either need to learn how to live differently with young people, or it won't work. Apparently, with tail-end babyboomers a few things worked fairly well: telling them God loved them, and whatever they were or were not doing wasn't a big deal because God loved everyone; contemporary worship and either praise choruses or new hymnody with sappy, Seals&Crofts or Cat Stevens style melodies; and the opportunity to "come back" to Church where they could be involved with working for a variety of good causes.

Sorry, I guess my agenda is pretty transparent. I don't understand why those methods worked before, why my mother (who never left the church) found the sappy hymnody so wonderful, or why anyone thinks that young adults now will continue to find these things so great. Young adults want and need many things, but no-cost discipleship, wimpy music, and yet another opportunity to volunteer time and money to change the world aren't major winners.

Before you get too upset about my concern for what young adults want -- remember, worrying what babyboomers wanted is what created the stuff we're supposed to want. Besides, it's not just about wants, but also about needs -- we don't need any of those things. Our culture tells us God loves everyone, and in the end, everyone finds "their own path" to God. Take the evangelism opportunity people, if they already believe God loves everyone, tell them why you know that's true, and that Jesus lived, died, and rose again to give us the path to God. I know, it's not very open to truth in every path to say you've got one that works (and to imply that you can't find the way to God by buying more stuff), but hey, it might just appeal to young adults... if you also tell them what being a disciple of Jesus Christ will cost them.

That brings me to my next issue -- asking for more social activists isn't going to bring young adults to the church. Most young adults who want to be socially involved already are. Don't get me wrong, the church should do a lot of good in the community -- but asking people to participate isn't a very effective evangelism tool unless the time is spent witnessing to the transforming power of Christ in our lives (and even then, there's probably more effective ways). When we invite young adults to work for a good cause, without asking them to commit their lives to the discipline of Christian discipleship, we make the church into another socially-active non-profit, and if that's all we are, then we're less efficient and less effective than the United Way... and they don't even use religious language all that much. If the Church is being the Church it will be involved in good works, but good works don't prove that the Church is being the Church.

Finally, changing our worship will bring in young adults, right? Yeah, but only if we make it less like Oprah and more like worship. Any style of music can work, formal or informal order, and almost any design of worship space. Some might work better than others, but the style of worship isn't the key, it's the content. Young adults want to hear about God's love, but we also want substance. Tell me what it means to be a Christian, tell me about the cost of discipleship, don't hide the Cross, don't hide my cross, and be honest about what the non-negotiables are for Christian faith. Worry less about inclusive language in our hymn selections, and more about whether or not they teach an intellectually, spiritually, and lifestyle challenging faith. Have open discussions about ethics, make good arguments based on Christian norms, but admit which issues are non-essentials and then "think and let think," as Wesley suggested Methodists do with other kinds of Christians: maybe some of the young adults we reach will quit smoking, but can their lives bear fruit even if they don't?

Worship needs to challenge us to come before the Living God, to offer praise and honor to the Maker of Everything in the midst of the community. One more sappy hymn, self-help sermon or political rant isn't going to help. Yes, some of you might believe your political agendas are prophetic -- on both sides of the divide -- but they're not. To reach young adults, the Church needs to be the Church -- a new community, bound together by love, taking care of each one's needs (spiritual, physical and emotional), challenging us to further discipleship, and reminding us that through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we can be brought into this embryonic Kingdom of God, and transformed by grace into new, different, refocused people. Whatever you do, do it well, with substance, and you'll reach more young adults.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Book

My wife and I visited friends last night. Their young son was mezmerized by the dancing images of "Crash-Bash" creatures on the PS1 when his father and I played a few rounds, but his youthful energy wasn't the only hallmark of the night.

My friend, who I have known for years (and who, apparently, called to talk to my wife about doctrine this last week), had checked out a book on science and religion from his local library. The title and the author both escape me, but as this is not a review, let's not get caught up in technicalities. First, dear readers, you need some useful details: My friend grew up in mainline churches (Presbyterian in California, Congretationalist(UCC) in Massachusetts, though he and his wife and son now attend a UMC), and is a well educated engineer who understands the intricacies of research and speculative science; Recently, he has been searching for greater knowledge of the Christian faith, especially core doctrines, so he's been reading what he can find in terms of theology from his local library.

The book in question claimed to be a Christian theology that would allow people to continue to believe in God in the face of evolution. So far, so good. There are plenty of orthodox theologians who have made solid arguments for belief in God and evolution, but from my friend's response, he hadn't found one. He asked my wife and me a couple of questions about doctrine, then showed us the book (which recieved a stellar review from John Cobb), and then we looked at each other and the alarms sounded -- process thought.

Now, my friend didn't know process thought from a marmot, but he knew something about this book didn't seem right, so he asked what process thought was. I tried to explain: process thought tends to suggest that God/the Universe are co-eternal, that God shapes but does not create the universe in the classical sense ex nihilo, and that while this produces a God in relationship to the world, it usually means there is no afterlife, either in terms of resurrection of the body on the last day, or in heaven now. "So, that's what all of this talk about God's memory was about... so what's the point of Christ's death if you believe that?" he asked. I told him process had never made sense to me, so I couldn't tell him what the appeal was. I also admitted that if the Christian doctrine of God actually began from a Trinitarian position (instead of trying to say "God is Creator," or "God is 'isness without limitations,'" or "God is The Ground of our Being," saying "God is a Trinity of three persons), like our worship does, then we might be able to resolve the issue of God's essential relationality, and even talk about theodicy without resorting to the easiest solution -- that we've all been wrong for most of Christian history, that God is not all-powerful, but that God is actually weak. "That's heresy," my friend insightfully said... but I didn't have the heart to tell him that it's also very popular in mainline seminaries.

Here the conversation turned to other topics -- like the use of parsnips in beef stew... At times like this I always give thanks to God for things like parsnips and other food for thought...

Monday, September 26, 2005


It seems over the last few weeks as I have returned from my Father-in-law's funeral (after spending a great deal of time with him, my wife, etc...), and the subsequent revival in my blogging, I've only been able to muster one really interesting, theological or social post each week. Now, that realization has driven me to seek inspiration for a great post.

Alas! I've been reduced to navel-gazing about how interesting I haven't been...the worst kind of narcissistic introspection! It's probably just exaustion from a combination of candidacy work, a day of youth work, and theological study, but maybe not.

My favorite season has returned to New England! Summer/growing season is necessary, but I'm neither a fan of heat or humidity, and New England summers tend to exibit both. The large oak in the parsonage side-yard is just beginning to burst into orange flame, and the butternut squash in our garden are nearing harvest.

We had the first round of fall food the over the last week -- a beef and lamb stew with Maine potatoes, local parsnips, carrots, onions, and our own tomatoes from the garden; a few days later we ate roasted chicken breasts with honeyed root vegetables (carrots and parsnips), roasted potatoes with onions, and one of the last few summer sqash. Soon the time of butternut squash and roasts of all sorts will return, when the heat from the oven seems a pleasant addition, not a summer annoyance!

Today we removed the air-conditioners from the windows, after weeks of idleness on their part. Any night now the residual heat from the day will fail to keep us warm until morning, and soon enough it will once again be sweater-weather! When we returned home this evening, in the drizzle of an autumn rain, I smelled wood smoke from the neighbor's chimnee for the first time in months...this is truly a blessed time of the year.

Maybe I'm alone, but it's Autumn/Harvest again and I couldn't be happier.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Deus Absconditus

Yesterday, we discussed the doctrine of the Trinity in doctrine of the Holy Spirit (because you can't have one without the others -- or can you?)... Some people in class suggested that the Holy Spirit is the least understood person of the Trinity, with the least clear function for most people's lives. (As Wesleyans pursuing Holiness, we should be ashamed that our people don't know the work of the Holy Spirit, but that's another post) I respectfully disagree. In much mainline protestand worship, at least in New England, the person of the Trinity most likely to disappear is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, but actually the Father, the first person of the Trinity.

I have some theories about why the Father has become a hidden person of the Trinity -- they involve a combination of feminist critiques of masculine imagery for God; continued use of "God" as a synonym for "Father" in public prayer in Western Christianity despite the Augustinian/post-Augustinian insistence that "God" means the whole of the Trinity all at once, not just one person; and the filioque in the creed which obviates any unique and necessary role for the Father relative to the Son and Holy Spirit. We have gone from being truly Trinitarian to Binitarian -- and lest we offer ourselves false-congratulation for returning to the Binitarian state of ante-Nicaean theology, it's a different Binity!

In the United Methodist Hymnal, we have a new doxology set to beautiful music, filled with "alleluia's" but which never mentions the first-person of the Trinity (UMH, 94). I know the intent of most people singing "Praise God. the source of all our gifts! Praise Jesus Christ who power uplifts! Praise the Spirit, Holy Spirit!" is to give praise to all three persons of the Trinity, but functionally, it either elevates only the first person to the level of God (Arianism), or totally removes the first person of the Trinity from God (the new Binitarianism) the text with your "outsider to Christianity" goggles on, it's pretty obvious.

In her book, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life, Catherine Mowry LaCugna asserted that the Trinity was a "dead doctrine," maybe she's right. How can we have a Trinitarian understanding of God when one of the three persons has disappeared?

Monday, September 19, 2005

It had to be Augustine...

You are Augustine! You are a great thinker, but be
careful not to let your past immoderation freak
you out about good times. It's really ok to
take some pleasure in material things.

326 other people got this result!
This quiz has been taken 5537 times.
6% of people had this result.

Which Saint Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Jean at Grandma Jean's Opinions got Athanasius... but I'll admit it's hard to be a pacifist and as pugnacious as Athanasius. I guess Augustine's pretty accurate on a number of levels, but then there's the fact that with a bit of stretching Augustine becomes a TULIP Calvinist, and that I can never be!

What do you expect from a native son?

I recieved this link in an email this morning. I have to admit I was tempted, but a combination of the pricetag and the Holy Spirit kept me from ordering anything.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Retreat from the retreat...

I've just returned from some great times at an all-church retreat. What a joy to be in a place filled with the Holy Spirit, focused on Jesus Christ, and building dynamic Christian community! Oh, and the soccer and touch football were fun too! Now I need a nap -- a retreat from the retreat, if you will.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Fruit, the Spirit, self-control, and spiritual impotence

I'm a member of a mainline denomination (the UMC), and attend a denominationally affiliated seminary (Boston University School of Theology). I attended an evangelical/Holiness Christian college, and I have friends from many sides of the Christian divide. Over time, I've begun to notice some significant differences between so-called "conservative" protestants (who might call themselves evangelical, orthodox, traditional, or a variety of other things), and self-proclaimed liberal and progressive protestants. As far as I can tell, the biggest differences concern what it means to be Christian and to live a Christian life, and who God is.

Currently, I'm taking a class on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Now, depending on your background, you'll have different images/ideas come to mind when you think of the Holy Spirit (we discussed this in class recently). Our readings suggested a variety of things about the Holy Spirit -- being connected to music, expression, release, love, justice... and from around the room people mentioned the image of a dove, or the wind, breath (so far, so good... though I'd never connected the Holy Spirit with justice -- then again, as I've learned, for liberal protestants EVERYTHING is about justice). Then it hit me -- we're not even thinking in the same categories.

For me, a Wesleyan charismatic/evangelical, the first though was of the Trinity (after all, GOD refers to the whole of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- I can't address God and then Jesus comfortably, as I've already addressed Jesus if I address "God," I can, however, address the Father and then invoke Jesus and the Holy Spirit... but that's another rant); after thinking of the Trinity, God whose inward nature is Love, I thought of tongues of fire (Acts 2 anyone?), holiness, power, and self-control. I can't help but connect those three images to Phoebe Palmer, Charles Finney, and John Wesley, but when I said that, my professor asked for help understanding why "self-control" made my list... It's in Galatians 5:22-23, right?

Paul wrote "...the friut of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and slef control." I guess for me, especially after being surrounded by Holiness folk, 5:24 helps make sense of "the fruit of the Spirit..." as Paul wrote, "And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." After all, Paul wrote about the fruit of the Spirit in contrast to "the works of the flesh (5:19-21)," right?

Here's the crux of the issue, I think: conservatives think of holiness first in personal terms (hence, self-control being a mark of sanctification), and then spilling over into transformation of the world. Whatever our lobbying power, electoral clout, or well-intentioned abdication of Christian duty to the State, our real power comes from on high, and from the indwelling Holy Spirit working through us, to make us an effective part of the Body of Christ at work in the world. If we recognize that the Holy Spirit comes upon us like fire, cleansing and transforming us, then we might get out of the way and let the Spirit work through us, but before we can be effective instruments of the Spirit's power, we need to let the Holy Spirit transform us.

For conservatives, it's all about God's mercy, as demonstrated in the death and resurrection of Jesus, which allows us to be grafted in to God's Holy People; for liberals, it's all about God's justice, as demonstrated by the way Jesus and the Church care for the poor. While the former might too easily become individualistic and overly focused on eschatological rewards, the latter is deficient, even in terms of Jesus' quotation from Isaiah... After all, Jesus didn't read "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor," and then stop. Jesus continued, "He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor (Lk 4:18-19)." Sounds like mercy to me (unless all captivity is somehow unjustifiable).

Until we rediscover conversion and personal holiness (and especially self-control), we should expect our churches to continue to decline, as we cannot offer hope to individuals as they struggle with personal demons of addiction, gambling, sexual promiscuity seeking gratification, and an American consumerist and therepeutic obsession with the self. Until we can invite people to put on Christ Jesus, be transformed from who they have been into who they should be (and only can be in Christ), then we should expect not only that our church rolls will decline, but that our social and political influence with non-members will continue to decline as well. Then, the UMC and other mainline denominations will become in the social and political realm what too many of our congregations already are in the spiritual lives of their communities -- impotent and powerless to combat the forces of Evil in the world.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

A little rain...

I'm back at Adrienne and Peter's apartment between classes -- it seemed like a good idea at the time to leave a few things here and carry less with me to my first class today. Key words: "it seemed."

Boston is in the midst of a bit of rain -- and the requisite thunder and lightning. Apparently, this is the first contact of the current tropical storm off our coast. Comm Ave is running over with water, and many walkways on the Boston University campus are following suit. I said a prayer for the victims of Katrina living as refugees around the United States and the world, and the victims of natural disasters generally. I hope it inspires more prayers than complaints, this rain pouring down on the streets of this Puritan City on a Hill, but I fear our Puritan roots, and their Christian humility has so faded from Boston's consciousness that Yankee discontent will win out over humble gratitude for our place int he world and concern for other souls.

Well, off I go, into the torrential downpour, to the library, that pilgrimage of learning and preserved knowledge. Pneumatological inquiry could be a way to seek the face of God, but the longer I'm here, the more I'm convinced that a School of Theology is no place to find God -- if there is any Christian institution where heart-holiness and true divotion is less likely to be encouraged, I haven't found it, and hope I never have to.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Back to...

My father-in-law died 10 days ago. For the wake/funeral services I missed two days of class and my first weekend at a new job. So far, this semester's going just peachy.

I hate starting from behind, and I'm not really in the mood to cram-in stuff either. I have a method for keeping on top of everything already planned for this coming semester, and already it's off kilter. Well, I guess for now I can focus on the overwhelming number of tomatoes sitting on the counter, and focus on what to do with them.

No guarantees, but I'll do what I can to post more frequently than this summer, and to get back to the kind of semi-serious blog content that marked the first phase of posts. Or I'll just fill the internet with dry whitticisms... whatever comes.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Travel Day

It's been too long between posts, dear readers! Blogging just hasn't seemed that important. Over the course of two months this summer my father-in-law's cancer returned, ravished his body, and killed him Friday. Yesterday was the first day of classes, so back I went to the School of Theology, and now I'm off with my wife for the wake and funeral.

I appreciate all the prayers that have been prayed for us, and continue to be, and I hope to resume blogging with more intention very soon. In this as in all things I am comforted by the fact that "I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Phil 4:13)."

Saturday, August 20, 2005

A deep breath...

This last week I helped my wife with Vacation Bible School at her church -- and I'm thrilled it's over.

Don't get me wrong, I like kids, but a week of 30 small children (and the majority were closer to 3 than 13) is about all I can handle in one go. I have great respect for kindergarten teachers, believe me! Teaching about Judaism and Jerusalem in Jesus' time was fun, and I'm sure interesting for the older ones (and maybe even good for the younger ones), but I'm not cut out for protracted lessons with groups of small children. For example, I learned this week that while most 3-5 year olds will be glad to sit and listen if asked, their attention span means that this request will be honored for anything from 1 to 4 minutes before a small voice breaks through your next point with a jarring "EXCUSE ME, BUT..." as the small body leaps from its pew onto the floor, hand extended to full body length for best visibility.

Like I said, it was great, but I'm glad it's over -- and I don't think I want to try to do it again, at leat for a year. I'd be glad to take a break, slow down for a few days, but there's a church supper tonight that will need more helpers, and then next week my wife and I will be leaving for her parent's as soon as possible. My father-in-law has been released to home-hospice care and probably doesn't have long to live. My inlaws are not church-folk, and they're having a hard time depending on God in their time of intense need, since they don't really know who it is they should be seeking (at least not very well). Well, in advance you have my excuse for further sparse posting.

So what's my excuse been for the last two weeks? Well, in addition to VBS, a trip to see the inlaws, prep for VBS, candidacy studies (well, not enough, but what I could fit in), my garden (oh, the glory of fresh vegetables... HELP!!! THEY'VE CONQUERED THE COUNTER AND THEY'RE MOVING TO THE WINDOW SILL!!!), and an attempt to get some much needed sleep before classes and work begin in September. I've taken a job doing Youth Ministry, so pray for me and the teenagers as we seek to follow Christ together!

Monday, August 01, 2005

Travel and Travail

The last several weeks have been challenging. My father-in-law is suffering from a fairly rare and extremely virulent form of cancer. Medically, the odds aren't great. About a month ago he had a 3 cm spherical tumor removed from his brain, and is currently in the midst of radiation treatment targeting lesions on his lung and spine. My wife and I spent 8 days with my mother-in-law in their new home (they moved the day after his surgery), and just returned yesterday. Some wonderful people from her church helped us spend that time by making sure the mail didn't explode from the mailbox, and by watering my garden -- it's exploded.

Yesterday, we found a wonderful church not far from where my inlaws live. The people and pastoral staff at the United Methodist Church of Webster welcomed my wife and I and were interested in ministering to my inlaws. That's great! A week earlier we visited another UMC in the area and recieved a less enthusiastic response, so we were exceptionally happy about this experience. Additionally, the associate pastor graduated from ENC (and is a former Nazarene) -- talk about instant connections! The pastors have agreed to visit my father-in-law who actually wants to talk to a pastor... I just wish that his interest in faith had come without the pressures of his disease.

Now, having returned home, I'm tired from a week away, and still waiting to hear about a one of two jobs I'm exploring. I'm convinced God will provide the right ministry opportunities for me. Pray for me, dear readers, that I may live a slightly less exciting life in the weeks to come.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

More Gardening

Nothing too profound here. I dug out the area between three beds at right angles, trying to make more room for vegetables, and I'll be doing some more digging later today. This growing season in New England has been exceptional -- in other words, everything has survived, and all the plants are producing! Yes, I'm excited, but the fact that everything is thriving has endangered the harvest (paradoxically), because if I don't thin what's there it'll grow together, risking rot and making harvesting the vegetables nearly impossible.

How could I have known it would ALL produce? Anyway, I'll be back to the garden later today -- it'll be a good change of pace from job interviews and candidacy work. Nothing like slow, backbreaking labor in good clean soil to cleanse the mind of other distractions!

Thursday, July 14, 2005


I had a first-stage telephone interview this morning, and then spent a fair amount of time working in my gardens. I moved some large cilantro, and growing genovese basil from a large pot to a bed, and then planted more basil seed. I have over 20 tomato plants growing, and some already producing fruit, so I need lots of fresh basil to make sauce...

What was I thinking??? How could any two people use so many tomatoes?! Don't get me wrong, I'll be giving them away -- I'll have to sneak onto porches in the middle of the night and leave them with a little note "courtesy of your local UMC... please come visit us, and please, PLEASE, DO NOT TRY TO RETURN THESE VEGETABLES! Perhaps even worse, I planted summer squash and zucchini... What was I thinking?!

Despite the apparent hardships associated with the work, gardening (especially growing vegetables) is a truly wonderful thing. Not only does digging in the dirt fulfill long-abandoned childhood desires to get dirty, but if viewed carefully, gardening teaches important lessons about living the Christian life.

Jesus talked about farm-labor pretty often (sometimes in ways modern westerners miss because we live so far from the land), and not just (I believe) because many, if not the vast majority of his listeners worked the soil. I'm convinced that tending a garden, and doing it well, reqires discipline and hard work that can help us hone the skills we need to be effective disciples. Just as weeds, slugs, grubs and other pests get into our gardens, so sin gets into our lives. If we neglect our gardens, they will be overrun with weeds, which will choke our productive plants, and they will bear little or no fruit. However, if we attend to our gardens dilligently, weeding and fertilizing them regularly, they will grow and produce copious fruit (oh, the zucchini, summer squash and tomatoes!). The same is true of Christian discipleship -- if we are lax about our spiritual disciplines, pray rarely, read scripture inconsistently, and neglect the renewing fellowship of the Body of Christ in worship, work and sacrament, then sin will grow into our lives, attack the core of our being, and we will produce little or no fruit -- but if we tend to our spiritual gardens, oh what glorious growth for Christ's Kingdom!

Anyone want some tomatoes? basil?? summer squash???

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Prayers of the Righteous

I coudn't sleep, so it seemed like time to actually post to my blog. The last couple of weeks have been crazy. I've spent much of the time helping my inlaws move into a new home, because my father-in-law has recurrent cancer, and needed surgery. No great joy there! However, the prognosis is as good as we could have expected. Countless people have been praying for him, and I'm convinced that has played a positive role. The prayers of the righteous avail much... right?

I guess what gets to me is the fact that I'm often reminded of just how unrighteous I really am (sometimes through self-righteousness, other times through outright sin). So I know, that amidst the chorus of righteous voices, among the prayers of the saints, ascends to God an imperfect, even seriously flawed voice -- and probably many of them. I have to be honest, I don't know what to make of that realization.

I know I need to be repentant and to accept God's grace moving me toward perfection, but I just don't feel much movement. The paradoxical solution is to pray more fervently -- despite the fact that the prayers of the righteous, not the unrighteous, are effective. Short of platitude, my only reason to hope is what I know about God's grace. Imperfect? Yes I am. A sinner? Certainly. Saved by grace and moving toward perfection? With the work of Christ, I'm sure. Now maybe I can get to sleep!

Monday, June 27, 2005

Scientology Meme: Fun with New Religious Movements

My friend Adrienne insisted I do this meme, and made it so easy by linking to my blog, that I decided I'd do it. That, and I need the stress release. For those of you who don't know, my father-in-law is having neurosurgery for a cancerous lesion on Wednesday morning, and then my inlaws are moving... Pray for him, dear readers...
And now, from the sublime to the rediculous...
I present to you: 20 Questions they ask you when joining the (cult) Church of Scientology.

Have you driven anyone insane?
Other than my mother? Umm... probably my wife, and maybe a few other people, but so far they've all recovered...

Have you ever killed the wrong person?
As I haven't killed anyone, uh... no. What kind of question is that? The wrong person? As a pacifist I can't say as I think there is a right person to kill...

Is anybody looking for you?
Shhh... hide and seek isn't as much fun when someone like you keeps trying to help the seeker!

Have you ever set a poor example?
More often than I'd care to admit.

Did you come to Earth for evil purposes?
Didn't everyone???

Are you in hiding?
You're really making this game of hide and seek less fun than it was before you got here!

Have you systematically set up mysteries?
Yes, I keep a blog with minimal personal information.

Have you ever made a practice of confusing people?
Yes -- there have been times when I believed the most effective way for me to follow Paul's advice to be "all things to all people," was to avoid stating my position on controversial matters.

Have you ever philosophized when you should have acted instead?
Yes... philosophy causes far less sweat and back strain!

Have you ever gone crazy?
There was this one time when I was working on the supply train for the French army and caught something that gave me an awful fever, so I crawled into a brick oven... oh, wait, that was Descartes! I always get confused by that sort of thing...

Have you ever sought to persuade someone of your insanity?
Umm... please see the previous question.

Have you ever deserted, or betrayed, a great leader?
Only by imitating Peter in the courtyard of the high-priest's house... but that's more than enough for a resounding Yes.

Have you ever smothered a baby?
What is wrong with you people? Have you ever considered that questions like this might be why people don't trust you?

Do you deserve to have any friends?
Why don't you ask the ones I have? My guess is their answer would be "on the whole, yeah."

Have you ever castrated anyone?
No, no, no, no, no... And eeww!

Do you deserve to be enslaved?
Please see the answer to the question about smothering babies -- OK, I'm convinced, you people are nuts.

Is there any question on this list I had better not ask you again?
That one about castration... Eeww!

Have you ever tried to make the physical universe less real?
Never permanently.

Have you ever zapped anyone?
Frequently in childhood -- I'll admit it, I was a sci-fi geek once... well, maybe I still am from time to time.
Have you ever had a body with a venereal disease? If so, did you spread it?
Darnit! You heard about the gerbil! I could've sworn the hamsters would've kept their mouths shut! Who would believe a bunch of rodents who claim to have syphillis anyway? You people have issues!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Result of Quiz :: What's your theological worldview?

Thanks to John Wilks who blogs at A Preacher's Journey for taking this quiz. After seeing it on his site, I just couldn't resist...

The only problem with this quiz is that it completely ignores Eastern Orthodoxy... I have a feeling that if it was recalibrated to include Orthodox Christians I'd score pretty high in that category.

You scored as Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan. You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God's grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavly by John Wesley and the Methodists.

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Neo orthodox






Roman Catholic


Reformed Evangelical


Classical Liberal




Modern Liberal


What's your theological worldview?
created with

The Hope for the UMC -- its roots as a movement

Shane Raynor at Wesley Blog recently had some interesting things to say about the UMC as an institution and a movement in a post entitled "Making Methodism a Movement Again." Shane draws on an article in the United Methodist Reporter, and draws the conclusion that we need to focus on reinvigorating the Methodist Movement and focus less on saving the institution. According to Shane: "Of course, no one says we can't do both, but I have a feeling that the UMC will take care of itself if we simply recapture the power of 18th Century Wesleyanism."

The string of comments that follow Shane's analysis are also worth reading, but I want to focus on Shane's post and the New England Annual Conference session that met a week ago in this post. I wrote earlier about being reinvigorated after Annual Conference, and one reason for that was Bishop Peter Weaver's repeated insistence that what we should be doing was focusing on the United Methodist Movement, not the institutions of the UMC. The movement has been reaching individuals with the good news of Jesus Christ long before there was a UMC or even a Methodist Episcopal Church. The movement has been bringing together the best of personal and social holiness longer than the church has existed, to transform both individuals and the world. In the end, it is the movement that is the real church (in the sense of the Body of Christ), and the institutional church and its boards and agencies are just the tools that the real church sometimes finds the ability to use.

Unfortunately, when any institution becomes focused on maintaining its place in the world, its power and authority, then the institution often eclipses the movement and stifle's the Holy Spirit at work in the Body. Institutions try to transform society without first focusing on the work of Jesus to transform lives -- Christian movements, at least in the case of Methodism in Wesley's day, focus on making disciples of Jesus Christ, and because lives are transformed by God's Grace, society changes with them.

Monday and Tuesday my wife and I babysat our friend's one-year-old son. He's never spent 24 hours away from his parents before, because their family isn't nearby -- but for Christians that should never be true! When the church is the real church, when Methodism is a movement, it's not about the building, or the worship program, or any of the institutional focus, but primarily about being part of the Body of Christ, a new people transformed by Grace and interested in each others needs -- a new family united by Jesus Christ. Instead of focusing on the institutions of the UMC let's focus on making our local churches movement centers where we make disciples of Jesus Christ and follow the new commandment to love one another... by giving an exhausted mother a day off, visiting a shut-in elder of the community, praying for each other, and spending time together as Christian people in holy conversation. Don't wait for the pastor, just start doing it, and invite others to do the same.

Sunday, June 12, 2005


Sorry, dear readers, for my continued sparse postings... I've just returned from a blessed and refreshing few days at the New England Annual Conference. I'll say more later, but for now I just want to confess Jesus was central and the Holy Spirit was moving. Thank God for giving us a Bishop who pushes us to keep personal and social holiness together, and to keep our eyes on Jesus Christ!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Holiness: How the corporate actions of the Body of Christ can transform the world... And why the goal for Wesleyans can't be social justice.

My friend at Theologygirl recently called me out in a post entitled,
The post in which she actually mentions theology (but imagines she'll live to regret it)." Adrienne raises an important set of issues about what it means to be a Wesleyan Christian, and while she never uses the term, spends a great deal of time talking about the implications of holy-living in the contemporary world. While the source of her angst is a bit foreign to me, the content should be familiar to all of us who take seriously the call to live Christian lives in this fallen order. Better yet, we have a rare instance of Adrienne admitting that she is actually Wesleyan -- welcome to the fold, sister!

See now, as much as I try to tell Kate and David I'm not Wesleyan (mostly because I think it is fun to annoy Kate), here is where my boy John Wesley had it right. He was all about moving on to perfection in this life, all about social justice in this life. Oh sure, there was talk of hell and such. But was that really the point? No. No it wasn't.

How do I say this... for the most part I agree with you. Wesleyan Christianity is very much now-focused (just for the record, I think most critiques of pie-in-the-sky Christianity are attacks on straw-men, but I digress). However, regardless of how now-focused Wesleyan Christians might be, focusing on going on to perfection in this life, and personal and social holiness in this life, Wesley spent significant time talking about justice anjudgmentnt -- and usually used them as calls for people to "flee from the wrath to come."

Don't get me wrong, much of the work done in the name of social justice is both good and right -- but it's mislocated. For Wesleyan Christians, and Christians in general, trying to make the world just is the ultimate act of hubris: Justice, judgment, and the New Creation are God's business. However, much of what we call social justice might be slightly refocused and fit into the category of social holiness -- living lives according to God's ways and God's will, as Christians are both called and empowered to do. As one of my former professors often said -- it's ALL about Grace.

When we try to make the world just, we might depend on God's Grace to help us, but it's about systems and structures, and about judgment (justice, after all, is about how well things fit right and wrong ideals), not primarily about grace and mercy. Holiness, however, is a way of life, dependent on God's Grace and mercy, to allow broken sinners (who are every bit as much responsible for the sin in the world as everyone else) to live as God calls us to live. It's not about making the world right, but about being God's holy, set apart, priestly people in the midst of the old creation while awaiting the consummation of the New Creation. Practically speaking, the issues are similar, whether we use the term holiness or justice, but I'm convinced holiness is far more appropriate (especially for Wesleyan Christians).

Adrienne raised some important practical considerations as well:
However, all affirmations of my Methodism aside (I can't believe I'm doing that. Clearly I got too much sun over the weekend), this leaves me with a few practical ethical dilemmas. Unless I decide to buy land, build an environmentally-friendly bio-dome, raise non-oppressed animals, produce non-oppressing food, weave non-oppressing clothing, consume only what I can live on, recycle everything and somehow produce an income to support others less fortunate than myself, then I am very much a part of the web of sin that keeps everyone captive. ...Oh sure, there are little changes I can make, better habits to hold. I could probably buy only second hand clothing, which several people in my "Theology of John Wesley" assured me was socially just. I could buy organic food (which is unfortunately expensive). These ways of living would cease to be even inconveniences after a while, I imagine.

But, would that really do any good? I mean, really. The whole thing seems too big. So should I buy the books that kill the trees, even if I keep them for the rest of my life? Do I just go on happily consuming oil based energy with wild abandon?

If anyone has any good ideas how to, say, exist and not hurt at least half the world's population, I'd be open to hearing your suggestions.
That's the part of Wesley we rarely discuss, largely, I think, because it's overwhelming. He would say you should live as simply as possible in the world (so the biosphere's out), trying to do what you can to make the lives of those around you better. Regardless, you ARE captive to the web of sin that holds us all captive, we all are... and we all will be until the eschatological consummation of All Things and the completion of the New Creation -- at least that's the classic Christian response. Focusing on what we can't do to fix the created order turns us inward and away from God -- focusing on God's Grace at work within us and through us in the world allows us to do what we can, without being oppressed by the guilt of our inadequacies. My father likes to remind me that none of us can minister to everyone in all situations -- the only One who can do that is in heaven. While the Church might be the Body of Christ at work in the world, we need to remember we are NOT messiahs, but only called to live within the community of faith dependent for our existence and power to live holy lives upon the messiah's power.

What I learned from my time among the Nazarenes was that holiness isn't about following all the rules -- though rules can sometimes be helpful -- but about becoming dependent on God's transforming Grace to live differently than we can without it. If we all follow God's calling to be the best we can in the circumstances where we live, and if we are willing to be trasformed continually into Christ's image and likeness, then we are going on to perfection. If you have options, don't shop at Walmart, buy organic food (or better yet, anything grown within your community), live simply, and give abundantly -- but if you have no other choices, live in God's Grace, and know that that Grace is sufficient to make up for our deficiencieses. In a consumer culture like ours, we should all be more conscientious about reading labels, and making the best choices we can afford -- but we need to remember that if we live in Grace, and we are willing to live for Christ, and not for ourselves, then almost anything is possible, and our small, local decisions can cause tremendous collective effects.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Home again...

Sorry, dear readers... Last week my wife and I celebrated our third anniversary by taking a trip to Florida. The weather was great, and a good time was had by both of us. We returned yesterday -- truly exhausted, but also refreshed.

In other news, we went to see Star Wars: Episode III, Revenge of the Sith. Definitely worth the price of admission (especially for the midday matinee). This was definitely the best of the new trilogy -- and I think it helps redeem Episodes I and II by resolving most of the issues they raised and connecting them to the original trilogy.

The moment Anakin Skywalker's transformation into Darth Vader -- complete with the familiar black body/suit, and James Earle Jones' voice speaks through it for the first time gave me the chills. Well, looks like lightning, beter quit for now, dear readers!

Friday, May 27, 2005


I don't usually find quizzes all that useful, but these two seemed apt. I found the first at bethquick -- thanks Elizabeth. The other I found on the same website. Both results seem accurate, as far as they go. For those of you who know me, the revelation that I'm a Postmodern Christian isn't much of a revelation... I'm curious about their definition of "idealist." It must be philosophical, not common usage... If that's the case, that's probably pretty accurate.



Cultural Creative














What is Your World View? (updated)
created with



















Which religion is the right one for you? (new version)
created with


I was up late last night, trying to sleep while my wife was away with a friend in Boston (our friend blogs at Theologygirl). After two episodes of Good Eats on the Food Network, I switched to latenight comedy/talk whatever Letterman and Leno are. Letterman was a rerun, so it had to be Jay Leno and the Tonight Show, at least because it was a Jaywalking night. Don't get me wrong, I find that stuff funny, but this time it was a bit disturbing.

Jay's goal was (allegedly) to discover whether men or women knew more about U.S. history, but as you know if you've ever caught Jaywalking, Jay's real point is to tell us just how little our fellow citizens know about the subject. My fellow historians, from the inexperienced first-year history major, to the emeritus professor at an ancient and venerable University -- where did we go wrong?

Don't get me wrong, I can understand Americans not remembering there was a War of 1812, or details about the Spanish-American War, or even who assassinated Lincoln, but some of the things people said last night were beyond funny -- they were downright scary. Jay asked who was Supreme Allied Commander during WWII, who later became president, and one man said George Washington... He asked what side Japan was on during WWII, the United States' or the Nazi's, and another man said the U.S.... He asked true or false (TRUE OR FALSE DEAR READERS), whether jet aircraft were first used during the American Revolution -- you've got it SOMEONE SAID TRUE!

I guess it wouldn't be so bad, but we let these people vote. We actually encourage them to vote. To be fair, democracy scares me (slightly less than most other forms of government), but this kind of ignorance is why. How can we expect people to make informed judgments about government when they don't know anything about the past -- it's not like we have another equally valuable source to consult to determine what might be best to do in the present. It's enough to make me wish for the Second Coming.