Thursday, August 31, 2006

Disturbing Results

In an increasingly pluralistic America, where we value diversity and individual rights above all else, or at least that is our rhetoric, some ideas are less acceptable than others.

After logging-off a popular free email service, I found a link to this story about healthcare providers who both come from and cater to a particular audience whose faith commitments prevent them from using contraceptives. I was impressed. The truth is, I think having medical practices, colleges, and financial institutions that cater to the moral needs of people of faith is a great thing. Fine, I'm a pastor, but I'm also a person of faith who would prefer to invest his money in a way that would support enterprizes I find desirable, not just whatever an investment firm finds profitable, whether it's selling Christian books, gambling, pyotechnics, organic coffee, prostitution or pornography.

Generally, Americans support the right of others to make choices. Not only is it important to our Capitalist system, it is also the primary way we exercize our personal freedom. However, in contemporary America, there is a growing sense that choices motivated by religion, especially traditional Christianity, shouldn't be acceptable.

At the time I read the article and took the poll, only 26% of people who responded to the question answered "I support them and hope they take off," to the question "What do you think of medical practices that blend health and faith?" What was worse, out of 21987 responses, 38% responded "I do not support them at all." Amazingly, a plurality of respondents would prefer to prevent individuals from having the choice to seek religiously informed health-care.

I guess this shouldn't surprise me. Catholic hospitals have been on the receiving end of attacks for years for refusing to provide abortions, and Massachusetts required Wal-Mart to sell morning-after pill earlier this year (in a reading of state law that would seem to require all pharmacies to dispense the drug, regardless of their religious objections).

I guess many Americans believe that free practice of religion should end when we enter the public sphere, whether that is in our own medical practice, while looking for a doctor, or choosing a pharmacy. I wonder if these folks think Christians should have a right to choose what books to sell in Christian bookstores, or if Christian counsellors and psychologists should be allowed to practice their trades in light of their faith?

Some of us seem to have confused living according to particular values with imposing them on others. This is truly a sad day.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Life Changes and the Life of Faith

I haven't been blogging much lately, largely because I've intended this site as a place for me to offer Christian commentary on the world I encounter. While I feel alright about posting personal stories if I think they have something interesting to say, I've avoided the "everyday life" journal stuff. So, while I've been living, I haven't necessarily had anything all that interesting to say lately.

Now that my wife and I are both pastors, our time is harder to manage. We have a wonderful situation on many levels, we can usually schedule to have lunch together, but we frequently have to eat dinner on the run to make evening meetings and events. Hey, I have lots of friends who never see their spouses during the day, but who generally get to have some evening time together... ours is just a different schedule. Still, many people ask me how we handle it, and older folks especially tend to comment how sad it is that we can't go to church together on Sunday. Changes in expectations can be hard to accomodate.

We're living in a great little city now. I guess on many levels it's nice to have curbside trash and recycling pickup and the services of urban life again, but we've traded the independence of a transfer station for the convenience of once-a-week fixed time collection. Yeah, I know trash pickup isn't exciting, but it's one of the changes that comes with moving. The truth is, changes in life circumstances are always a challenge for us, whether they involve moving to a new city, beginning a new excercize regimen, or coming into relationship with Jesus.

We in the Church often fail to recognize how dramatic a life-changing encounter with Christ can be. After we have been Christians for awhile, we have a tendency to see faith in God as normal, if not universal. We tend to tak for granted our relationship with God, to assume this must be what life is like.

Moving to a new culture, or even a new city can help remind us how radically life-changing Christian faith can be for those who are not comitted and practicing Christians. For many of us, singing the words of the old hymn "what a wonderful change in my life has been wrought, since Jesus came into my heart..." is an excercize in communal memory that carries little meaning for us personally. Yes, Jesus has changed our lives, but for those of us who grew up in the Church, what does that change look like?

New belivers whose life has been lived apart from an active, two way relationship with God have a great deal to teach us. Yes, God's grace may be reaching for everyone at all times, but not everyone is willing to engage with God in Christ, and many people in our "Christan" west don't even know how. Can we in the Church who have forgotten how different Christian life is from life apart from Christ learn how to help others experience a life-transforming relationship with God? Are we willing to learn?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Food Allergies

I was reading an online Slate article this morning, and it got me thinking. I've had a similar reaction to overcautious parents for quite some time now. Several years ago, while working in a coffee shop, the new "in" thing for parents with too much money to spend seemed to be reading all labels for any evidence of peanuts or treenuts. I guess we've gone farther, now hickory trees are apparently high enough risk for a kid with a nut allergy that a town sufficiently fears litigation to cut down several of them.

What has the world come to when a commentator has to ask:

Who is crazy here—the family that wants the trees felled or the residents who seem willing to put a child at risk? It's hard to tell. That's the dilemma of nut allergies. There are cases of real danger and real death. And then there's the huge circle of caution that often gets drawn around children when, rationally speaking, more modest precautions might do.
Sadly, that's the world we live in today -- a world where irrational parents can make normal life cease for fear of something that might happen to a child who has never evidenced risk before.

I understand food allergies -- I really do. My wife's best-friend is seriously allergic to peanuts, and moderately allergic to a host of other legumes. However, she's an adult, and has never evidenced airborne risk, so while she'd prefer you not eat a peanut-butter sandwich in front of her because she finds the smell unpleasant, she hasn't tried to ban all foods that might have made contact with peanuts from her worksite.

Some of you might be saying "so you know someone..." Well, I know several people, a shellfish (crustacea, not bivalves... yes, I know it's hard to imagine, but clams are not closely related to crabs) allergy in my family, a banana allergy in my wife's, a blueberry allergy in mine, and a serious cashew allergy in mine that leads to minor issues with other drupes (including mango and poison ivy).

The problem with too many parents is that they seem to assume, "my kid's friend is allergic to peanuts, so my kid must be allergic to peanuts too, and cashews because they look like peanuts, and probably all nuts -- we must make the world a NUT FREE ZONE!!!" Even without intensive allergy testing, parents should be able to do better -- when you find an allergy through contact, learn what's really closely related, and don't feed a kid with peanut allergies lentils without asking if it makes them itchy, but dry roasted almonds or chashews, not processed in a plant that processes peanuts, are probably alright. Better yet, make the kid go through the whole battery of tests, and then avoid what actually comes up -- not everything. Finally, try to find out how serious the allergy really is -- if it's airborne, freak out, you're one of the few with a hypersensitive case, otherwise, take reasonable and sensible precautions. If your child has a mild peanut allergy, don't quiz every potential playmate's parents to discover if there's peanut butter in the house and ban contact with all kids who might occasionally eat some, just inform your kid's friend's parents' and ask for reasonable support.

If more of us were treated as reasonable people, then perhaps we'll all be able to live in a more sane world again. If parents had done that while I worked at the cafe, I wouldn't have responded like I did a few times, telling one hypercautious mother who'd just told her friend that while her kid hadn't been tested "you can't be too cautious," not to bother with any of our food, because I couldn't give her a 100% guarantee of peanut/treenut-freeness about anything.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Moving Day Part 1

Today is the first day of our move... The truck will be packed with almost all of our worldly belongings and we'll be off to new environs tomorrow.... Between new appointments and a move, we've been busy, and I've been a very meagre blogger.

My last night here was almost sleepless -- no good reason, so I'm chocking it up to nerves. I'm sure with the beginning of a pastoral appointment at the end of this week, I'll have more to say here -- at least I hope that will be the case.

If anyone's still occasionally checking in, I hope I'll be better about posting in the weeks and months to come.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

New Beginnings

Well, the long semester is almost over. I've survived CPE and I'm just a few days from the end of a semester. That's a very good thing!

Along with the euphoria that follows work completed comes something less thrilling this year, though. My wife and I are considering moving from our home conference, seeking appointments elsewhere. Mind you, we don't really want to go -- but there are no full-time appointments for commissioners here in New England, and that'll be an issue. We need to have at least one full-time job, and I'll be finished with seminary, one way or another by Christmas, which we might spend somewhere very different from where we are now.

It's bitter-sweet. We've done good work where we are, and hoped to do more in this conference, but maybe we have other things we need to do for now. If God calls, we will go -- even if that's sometimes a little scary.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Qualified Participation?

You Passed the US Citizenship Test

Congratulations - you got 10 out of 10 correct!

I couldn't resist... How well would you do?

If you couldn't pass the U.S. citizenship test, but you're a citizen by default, why do you think your opinions on politics should matter?

I've often wondered about informed participation among the American people. We encourage high-school students to register to vote, and the media always bemoans the lack of turnout by "qualified" American voters. If Americans choose not to vote because they don't know what's going on, is that really a bad thing?

The truth is, I'm not sure high turnout would be good for American elections. I'm not suggesting we go back to the property test -- only allowing property owners to vote, as we did in the early days of the American Republic -- but maybe we do need some kind of test.

Literacy wouldn't do it -- and not simply because illiterate Americans are sometimes well-informed. No, the real issue is civic and historical illiteracy. If we expect immigrants to pass an exam to become citizens, perhaps it would be appropriate to ask citizens to pass an exam to earn the right to participate in determining the shape of our collective future.

Question of the day -- should there be a basline of knowledge required before we allow people to participate in the American political process?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Addendum part 1

There'll probably be more late entries to add... but hey, we'll keep at it.

None of the 3 blogs in the Numeric through C's that I've already reviewed are new -- just new to the MBR -- but that'll do...

I found 32 Flavors by Tammy Jo some time ago -- I think through the Blogging Methodist Webring, but it could have been through a search for blogs about Romania. Either way, Tammy Jo's been blogging for some time, and is approaching graduation from Seminary! Tammy Jo's blog is eclectic and generally quite personal. Her insight can be quite interesting.

A Thing with Feathers, by Ciona, is another recent addition to the MBR. Ciona's a freelance writer, and the quality of writing on her blog suggests she should be able to make a living doing that. I particularly liked her posts Beautiful History! and "Can't exactly tell the church choir".

I think I may have passed over Bruce Alderman's blog, It Seems to Me... thinking it was a longer-term part of the MBR, but I'm not sure. If you've been around, Bruce, my apologies... Especially if you're a Marcus Borg fan (I'm not, but that's OK), check out Bruce's blog...

Saturday, March 11, 2006

And Now Methodist Blogroll New C's!

Basically, this is a continuation of my post The Exploding Methoblogosphere... I've resolved to review new blogs on the Methodist Blogroll, and to offer a bit of commentary. I don't know how long this will take, nor if I'll have to go back frequently to get to earlier posts, but I hope this will further conversation in the Methoblogosphere.

Today we're on to the C's... and there are quite a few!

Craig, of canaan is calling may be fairly new to blogging, but so far, he's both reflective and interesting to read. Sandwiched between posts with original poetry, Craig has offered some Biblical reflection, including an interesting post on being an evangelical pacifist.

I've never noticed Chris Iddon's blog The best of all until recently -- but he's been writing for awhile and it may have been on the MBR longer than I've noticed. Chris is a British Methodist who blogs about Church stuff, music, movies, and other stuff... He posts regularly, and the variety of content keeps the site interesting...

Churchonomics represents truth-in-advertizing, offering "revolutionary ideas and solutions for the local church." Most of the content seems to focus on mega-church stuff, but it made me think about how we might do ministry in any church (even if I just can't see building a 45' rock climbing gym, cage basketball, arcade gaming or a BMX park in any church I've ever experienced).

Corey Mann offers another mega-church perspective. Most of his posts are short but pithy and offer insight into a variety of material. Corey does High School ministry and shouldn't lose attention if his work is like his blog.

WCharles of Cosmic Wheel is a Red Sox fan from Texas. Sorry, as a New Englander and lifelong Sox fan, I missed the rest of his sports-related profile... Check it out for yourself... Recently, WCharles has been writing Katrina related posts, but with almost two full years of content, there's alot to see! Check him out, and if I've just missed him for all this time, I'm sorry, because he strikes me as a smart guy (and he's a Sox fan, after all, so he must be OK)...

Well, that's the C's! That's all I've got time to do for now... Next time, on to the D's!

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Exploding Methoblogosphere...

Yes, that's acoined neologism if I've ever heard one, but at least it makes the subject line pithy.

I've been exceptionally busy in the last couple months, blogging far less than I might like, and reading other blogs less than I might like as well. As long as I'm trying to squeeze in a bit too much of everything, that can't be helped, but that's not my point today. Over the last several weeks I have noticed a trend in Methodist blogging that Shane and others have also mentioned -- the list of Methodist bloggers has exploded. It seems every time I visit the bloggers I've known for some time now, I find new Methobloggers on the Methodist Blogroll.

I applaud Shane's decision to begin publishing Welsey Daily, and hope that that will be one place we can find some of the best Methodist blogging, but with an almost endless supply, I'm sure we'll all begin to feel overwhelmed with the options of new, fresh Methodist reading we can do! I hope John can manage the MBWR despite the added work -- because your distillation will become even more valuable to all of us with the growing number of possible reads... but who knows what the explosion might mean for that institution of Methodist Blogging (other than the all-knowing John the Methodist, of course)!

I've been trying to dig through all the various new blogs as I go, but I've decided I need to get Methodic about reading new bloggers -- otherwise I'll fall back on my old favorites and ignore any new folk without even giving them a chance. So, for the next however-long-it-takes, I'll be reading new blogs on the Methodist Blogroll alphabetically and making a few personal comments on a post or two from each, or the general tenor of the blog. While this is for my own personal benefit, I hope any of you interested in Methodist Blogging will find these reviews worthwhile. Just as a note, all opinions expressed by me are my own, and if you've been on the Blogroll for more than a couple of weeks and I mention you, please don't take offense, I've tried to read everyone as they've been added, but it's not always easy, and I may have missed some of you with no intention of doing so.

For today, Numeric through B!

With one of the most creative new names, Stephen D's blog, 2Theo 2, is still very young. With only two posts so far, we'll await much more from Stephen D. If you have any interest in Young Adult ministries, as I do, check out his first post... it should be a reminder of how most churches need to do more to reach young adults.

Allan R. Bevere's eponymous blog made me laugh with this post about French Canadians consuming (I assume) unconsecrated Hosts as snacks. Good stuff...

Andy Stoddard's blog, ’Mid Toil and Tribulation, has what seems to be the unique role among Methodist Blogs of commenting on the Daily Lectionary. Perhaps he'll inspire others to do the same -- we can hope, as this Biblical Journaling could enrich both individuals and our communities!

Bad Methodist takes her name from her disagreement with the official United Methodist position on homosexuality. While much of the content on Bad Methodist focuses on LGBT issues, she has commented on reading The Message by Eugene Peterson.

As a side note, I'm also glad to see the return of Valtteri Mujunen's aMethodistBlog to the Methodist Blogroll, and hope he continues to publish posts regularly!

Tune in next time for C through... well, we'll see how far I can get.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Moving General Conference over Paul Revere

Essentially, that's what's happening with this move.

In making the change, the United Methodist Commission on the General Conference cited a church policy regarding meeting in cities that are home to professional sports teams with Native American names.

The 2012 General Conference will be held April 25 to May 4 in the 600,000-square-foot Tampa Convention Center.

At the time of the initial selection, commission members were unaware that Richmond is home to the Richmond Braves, a minor league baseball team affiliated with the Atlanta Braves.

The General Conference meets every four years to set policy for the church and adopt or renew resolutions on hundreds of issues and concerns. It draws nearly 1,000 delegates from around the world. The 2004 conference was held in Pittsburgh, and the 2008 gathering will be in Fort Worth, Texas.

A resolution passed by the 2004 General Conference called for United Methodist agencies and organizations to avoid holding meetings and events in cities that sponsor sport teams using Native America names and symbols. "The United Methodist Church rejects the use of Native American names and symbols for sport teams, and considers the practice a blatant expression of racism," the assembly stated.

The United Methodist Commission on the General Conference may be doing something they interperet to be in accord with a GC Resolution, but they're historically wrong on this one. In this case, the name "Braves" derives from the original Boston Braves francise that was named after the "Braves" who took part in the Boston Tea Party... While I'm sure that the actions of the Sons of Liberty could be interpreted as racist, that's a different issue. In this case, we're moving General Conference over Paul Revere....

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Fear and Trembling in New England...

Sitting in the computer lab at the School of Theology, I realized I might not have completed a vital assignment for today. At that moment, my life, the universe, and everything flashed before my eyes and all I could think was "maybe it's really 41!" Odds are, this is just the kind of thought that comes to most sleep-deprived graduate students taking more than a full courseload and trying to work as well... but I can't know unless I'm told.

The truth is, CPE is both more practical and more fulfilling than I had expected -- not because I think it's a bad thing, mind you, but because I had hoped to take it after finishing Seminary and knowing exactly what issues I needed to address in a clinical setting. Our Board of Ordained Ministry has determined that won't work, so I've decided to cram it in now, lose sleep, become a less effective student near the end of my time at school, and try to cram in the experience without having to give up my income to boot... and I'm almost enjoying it.

In my "spare time" I've been contemplating the value of formal seminary education, and I've concluded that at least where I've been a student it is neither academic or practical, but a broken amalgamation of the two, approximating a very poorly organized baccalaureat program. I'm not entirely sure how to do it better, though requiring all our clergy to get an M.A. in either Theology, Biblical Studies, or a related field, and spending an intensive year or two as an associate to a compitent experienced pastor might work as well. I don't know -- but that's more or less what the Wesley's did, and it didn't seem to be any worse than the current system.

I'm in favor of an educated clergy, but I fear the current system creates people without any real expertise, but with substantial sense that they should be experts -- and that might make us all more dangerous, not less.

What do you think? How could we improve on the system most churches use to train clergy?

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Guilt of Failed Writing

Over the past months, I have attempted to read other bloggers posts daily, and to write at least two posts each week myself. Recently, I haven't kept up with that schedule. I enjoy blogging, especially when I have particular ideas I want to refine, but I've been overwhelmingly busy with youth work trying to prepare for the spring, and I'm beginning a quarter of CPE while taking several classes and working this spring. All told, I fear I might not post frequently.

Two weeks ago, a friend of mine asked for my input on a post she had written on her blog. Check if you want, but my comment never appeared. I started it -- I really did. In fact, it's still a text file on my computer's desktop. Life just got crazy, and a good thing never materialized.

The fact is, I've felt kind of guilty about it. Adrienne's post was about Christian pacifism, and I feel strongly about the issue (as I've said on this very blog), but beyond personal interest, Adrienne was the person who both inspired me to blog, and encouraged me to get started. Yeah, Chris contributed too, but it was mostly Adrienne.

Maybe it'll appear as a full-fleged post here -- since Adrienne has moved on from the issue and continued to post about other interesting topics. Maybe not, but either way, thanks dear readers for bearing with me as I unburdened myself of the guilt of failed writing.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Bibles as Tools and Spiritual Sustenance

Bible translations are always a touchy subject. When I was very young, my parents gave me an NIV, later, my home church gave me a Good News Bible, and in High school, my parents gave me a NKJV which I read several times. I used the NIV and NKJV extensively, and for me, those Bibles shaped my early Christian faith.

In college, and then later in seminary, I have had to use the NRSV, and while I appreciate the gender-neutral translation when the clear meaning of the Hebrew and Greek is gender neutral, the language is not modern English as anyone (aside from some academics) speaks it, and the poetry isn't as good as in most older translations. The church where I work now uses NIV's in the pews, and I've been glad for that, it's an improvement over the churches that use NRSV's in the pews -- but there are an odd mix of Bibles in the youth room.

Over my time doing youth work, I've found myself resorting to The Message: Remix as a suplement to the NIV to get the teens to think about biblical passages in a more "contemporary" way, but it's far from perfect (and as a rule, I'd never use a paraphrase in worship, and some of Peterson's choices, such as the use of "death valley" in the 23 psalm are more misleading than enlightening). I have found that The Message: Remix can speak to teens if used sparingly, so I'll probably continue to do so, but I've been looking for an everyday Bible that will work for my devotional use, be effective as a tool for communicating the Gospel, and will do so in contemporary English while faithfully translating the Hebrew and Greek text.

Both my wife and I have ordered TNIV's and I've begun using a desk-copy we purchased to read through the whole Bible this year. Check it out -- while it's not perfect (no translation is), it's smooth, and basically contemporary English, as well as an accurate translation. Shane was right -- the TNIV is good stuff. (And even more exciting than a great new translation, for youth workers anyway, there's a parallel TNIV/The Message:Remix edition that could be great as a discussion leader for teen Sunday School classes.)