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...