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.

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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)."