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