Thursday, March 31, 2005


Happy Easter! Since we started the season of Easter last Sunday, signs of new life are everywhere. Grass is greening, birds are singing, warm breezes blowing. Good stuff! Important stuff!

Spring makes you think about priorities - what is important to you, here and now. How much time outside in the midst of God's wonderful creation did you spend today? Can you see sunlight from where you are sitting right now? Can you feel any fresh air? Can you see your bird feeder? (You do have a bird feeder, right?) Cori has a notebook in our kitchen, right next to the window from whence we look to see our bird feeder. In her book, we keep track of all the different kinds of birds that partake of the seed we are offering. We do this because it is important for us. It is our priority.

The United Methodist Church has some priorities, too. The General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) has a brochure that lists the top Legislative Priorities for 2005. In it, we find:
- End the War in Iraq
- Fight the Global AIDS Pandemic
- Preserve Social Security
- Oppose Internet Gambling
- Address the Global Climate Crisis
- Protect Social Safety Net
- Support Just Immigration Reform
These seven justice issues are on the front burner for our denomination. We will address them because they are important for us. They are our priorities.
I notice some of our perceived "hot button" issues are not there:
- "Protect the Institution of Marriage" is not there.
- "Spread Democracy in the World" is not there.
- "Ensure the Right to Life" is not there.
I notice what is important for the church, and I choose to focus my energy in those places. I am not saying these other things are not important at all, just not as important to the denomination as some other issues currently at hand. Each Christian makes her or his choices, and some even hold big expensive rallies in order to promote their priorities.
You make your choice, too. You might not agree with what the GBCS lists as top priorities for this year, and that is fine. But find something! Decide what your priority is, and pursue it with every ounce of your passion. Do it becaue it is important for you.
Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to take a walk in the park. Because it is important.
God is good - all the time!
Andy B.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Wrong Does Not Mean Unfaithful

I read this week about a forum held at the Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas. The forum featured two clergy, one who was there to claim homosexuality is a sin and one who was there to claim homosexuality is not a sin. Now, one of these men is wrong, and I cannot see how it could be otherwise. They were debating in an either/or format. But the one you or I personally think is wrong depends on our respective belief systems, our readings of scripture, the things we have been taught, our life experiences, our relationships with God.

Here is the thing: I hope that we do not take the next step and say that the one we think is wrong is somehow unfaithful. Each of the two pastors, with their oppositional beliefs about homosexuality, is struggling to live faithfully to God's call in his life. Each of the two pastors, who cannot both be "right" (for whatever that is worth) on this issue, is a beloved child of God and worthy of our love and respect. Being wrong does not mean being unfaithful.

Now, I will stand toe to toe with anyone in the world with my firm belief that homosexuality is not a "lifestyle," not a choice, and not a sin. I am equipped with a knowledge of the scripture, spiritual formation in a loving family and church, what I hope is a close relationship with God, and wonderful relationships with friends who are real live, "self-avowed, practicing," honest-to-goodness homosexuals. If ever given the chance, I will look Rev. Jerry Johnston right in the eye and work my hardest to convice him how wrong he is.

BUT - I also expect him to work equally as hard to convince me of my error. I believe what I believe - but I desire to be shown where my belief is inaccurate or weak. Let's not beat each other up with the Bible any more, okay? Let's admit that we might be wrong, okay? Let's start by affirming that what we know about God and people and the world and stuff is just limited, finite knowledge, and that none of us - NONE OF US - has exclusive privy to God's favor, okay? I might be wrong; you might be wrong; but neither one of us should be excluded from the availability of God's grace, okay?

Grace and Peace,
Andy B.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

"The Glow of Distant Worlds"

Who else but an astro-physicist? What other person could display this depth of wonder and awe? Who in the world has a richer appreciation for creation than one who spends all day every day gazing at its beauty?

I read today about a team at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who has for the first time measured light from two big planets in orbit around distant stars. A member of the team said, ""It's an awesome experience to realize we are seeing the glow of distant worlds. When I first saw the data, I was ecstatic."

What self-respecting scientist uses phrases like "the glow of distant worlds?" That sounds like a line from a Fanny Crosby hymn! This man of science describes a state of ecstasy and awe that is often reserved for experiences of a religious nature. Which in a way, this was.

In the last ten years, over 130 extrasolar planets have been discovered by earth-bound scientists. They generally detect them by noting a small gravitational wobble in the observed star or a brief dimming in the star's light as the planet passes in front of it. But now we are actually able to "see" the infrared light that is emitted by the planets themselves, using technology like NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.

Noticing more and more of the wonders of creation, being awed by the beauty of worlds beyond our own, just considering the infinite potential of the universe: these are religious experiences, whether you name them as such or not. Some may disagree, preferring to keep the "religious experiences" category limited to "Jesus experiences" or "God experiences" (or "my experiences"), and unwilling to even consider that scientific discovery can, and often does, draw us closer to the Creator.

But science and religion are not enemies, and they never have been. To separate them from one another is detrimental to both. It took science to allow humanity to gaze in ecstasy into "the glow of distant worlds."

"O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, thy power throughout the universe displayed,
then sings my soul, my saviour God, to thee, 'How great thou art! How great thou art!' "
(text: Stuart K. Hine, 1953)

Grace and Peace,
Andy B.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Eternal Life at Age 7

"Daddy, if you believe in Jesus you will never die. Right, Daddy?" said Cori at dinner last night.

Now, Cori is seven years old, and safe to say the sweetest seven year old you have ever spoken with. Her little voice is a lilting, melodious bird song, even when she is speaking the most ordinary words. So when she speaks extraordinary words such as the ones she uttered last night, it is all you do to keep your heart from splitting right down the middle. And when she said, "Right, Daddy?" she looked at me with her enormous, round, blue eyes and blinked a couple of times. What is a preacher-dad to do?

Thankfully, Mom took over.

"That's right, Cori." She was very sure of herself.

"What about Annie?" countered our daughter, "She died." (Annie was our dog, by the way. She died a couple of years ago.)

Cori paused and thought a second before grinning and asking, "Did Annie believe in Jesus?"

Cori is smart. She is, you could say, damn smart! She knew that we had told her, at the occasion of Annie's demise, that she was in heaven with God now. But here she was with the intriguing notion that one had to believe in Jesus in order to enter into eternal bliss in the arms of our Lord. Surely it is not within a dog's capacity to believe in Jesus, is it? Is it even in our capacity to believe in Jesus enough to be assured of entry into paradise? Isn't that the Question of questions here - the one that has divided Christians one from another for untold centuries?

But wouldn't you know, Cori has an answer. After she allowed my wife and I to fumble around with trite platitudes for a while, she simply said, "Prob'ly 'cause she was with us, and we believe in Jesus, that was enough."

Maybe the question is not what you believe but with whom you are in relationship? Yeah, that's prob'ly it. Thanks, Cori.

Grace and Peace,
Andy B.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Human / Nature?

Does nature itself have intrisic value, or is the natural world only valuable insofar as it serves human needs? The U.S. Senate has voted 51 to 49 in favor of the latter:

By setting the stage for oil drilling in an Alaska wildlife refuge, our Senate has shown where their moral principles really are. God's good creation is to be valued if we can get something from it, but not otherwise. I actually heard a drilling proponent say that this coastal Alaska wildlife refuge was not his idea of a beautiful, pristine place to be preserved. Now, unless this guy was a talking polar bear, I am not surprised to hear him say so. Of course the north coast of Alaska is not a place one would want to build a nice beach house for vacations, but the ecosystem is home for a diverse array of life, created by God and therefore of sacred worth.

51 U.S. Senators have made it a matter of public record that their ethical concern does not extend to the intrinsic worth of God's creation. Not even, supposedly, with the knowledge that "God saw everything that had been made, and indeed, it was very good." (Genesis 1:31) Despite the efforts of environmentalists to protect nature from human violation, it seems we are bent on squeezing every drop of the earth's resources from our home planet, as if she was a giant sponge rather than a living, breathing organism.

So what do you think? Should our assessment of the value of the natural world be based upon what human beings can gain from it? Is there something sacred about nature that we humans might not fully understand, but ought to honor? How much of my suspicion that big oil companies have a lot to do with this is just cynicism, and how much is real? I'm looking forward to reading responses!

Grace and Peace,
Andy B.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Religious Tolerance Web Site

Please check out this website. Click on the title of this blog entry to go to it. This is great stuff. Go and read. Spend some time clicking around the various topics. Everything I have found there is honest, balanced, and insightful. Many sides of a variety of diverse issues are explored. It is a hopeful and helpful site where you could spend fifteen minutes or a couple of hours, depending on how much time you have.

The home page of this site says, "Religious tolerance means to extend religious freedom to people of all religions, even though you disagree with their beliefs and/or practices." This is a website for people who want to know God's creation as the wonderfully diverse place that it is, and to explore some of that diversity. It is not militant, but it has a clearly defined agenda (just like everyone, of course. Why has "agenda" become a dirty word?). The agenda of this website is tolerance. (Why has "tolerance" become a dirty word, too?)

I hope you have a chance to peruse it.
Grace and peace,
Andy B.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Four-Year-Old's Faith

Last night, my son Wesley and I had a conversation about praying. Wes is four. (I have written about him before.) In his bed, after getting pj's on, brushing teeth, and having our bedtime stories, Wes and I kind of snuggled in together to talk. I told him a little story, just something silly I made up. Then, after a small quiet time, I asked, "Wes, you want to say a prayer?"

"No," was his immediate reply.

"Why not?"

"I don't know anything to say." (It sounded like "anyfing" when he said it.)

"Well, Wes, you don't have to say anything special, just listen for what God has to say to you." This was excellent theology, and I was sure that it would impact him deeply. After all, I had been to seminary and knew all about stuff like this.

"But I never heard God before." (It sounded like "heared.")

Okay, this was another issue, but I was equipped. "You might not listen with your ears, but you can listen with your heart."

Giving me a look that said, Yeah, yeah, I have heard that one before and I'm not buying it, Wesley said, "I never heared him with my heart, either."

(Long pause.)

What do you say to that? It is a four-year-old's first crisis of faith. How do you say something to a four-year-old in that moment that will make any kind of impression, some kind of difference in his relationship with God? I couldn't think of anything to say, so I hugged him.

Maybe that was enough.

Hugging him, I said "Wes, you know how you get up every morning and come downstairs all sleepy and stuff, and you climb up into Mommy's lap and snuggle with her for a little bit until you wake up all the way? You know how that feels? Maybe that is kind of like what God feels like."

Wesley didn't say anything. He was asleep.

Grace and Peace,
Andy B.

P.S. My friend Roger has a great story about something his daughter taught him about God. Check it out:

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Calling it Splits

I have been out of town for a week, so I haven't had a chance to write. I was in Nashville at a big United Methodist shindig. Good stuff. But I'm back now, so look out! I have some catching up to do.

A newspaper article in the paper yesterday (the link in the title above should take you to the article) told of Christ Church Episcopal in Overland Park splitting away from the Kansas diocese of the Episcopal church. There is also a great letter about it at The issue at the center of the split is "human sexuality," which is a code word for our attitudes toward people who are homosexual. The congregation is leaving because the larger church has proven to be too tolerant in it's ordination the Bishop of New Hampshire.

The congregation's Rev. Ron McCrary calls the split a "win-win situation" because there was no bitterness or animosity in the split. They are just taking their congregation and leaving. They are saying: No hard feelings, huh? You aren't going to play by the rules WE make, so we'll just quit playing with you altogether. Forget about all that "Christian conversation" crap, that's just for show. Forget about all of that "Come, let us reason together" fluffy stuff (Isaiah 1:18). Too touchy-feely for me. Bottom line is - we don't agree, so I'm going to play with some kids who think like I do!

Win-win situation? Who exactly is winning what here? Who made this a contest? How did living together as the body of Christ get perverted into a situation where there are winners and/or not losers?

The article said that the congregation would assume the $1.7 MILLION mortgage and pay the diocese $1 MILLION for the right to leave. So what we have here is a church willing to shell out 2.7 MILLION DOLLARS rather than be a part of a denomination with a bishop who is gay. First of all, I'm thinking we should be shocked an apalled that there is a congregation with 2.7 MILLION DOLLARS on hand to spend! What else could they do with all that money? How many hungry people could eat for a year using their 2.7 MILLION DOLLARS? How many pairs of new shoes for how many poor children could we buy? How much medical insurance could honest, hard-working folks afford with that 2.7 MILLION DOLLARS? Makes you want to cuss, doesn't it?

Second of all, here is a group of people who is hard at work to ship food to people in Sudan (a wonderful and worthy endeavor), but cannot see the glaring disconnect between this mission and their stance with regard to people who are gay. Rev. McCrary says, "This church has a long history of reaching out to hurting people in our own city and foreign countries." Well, I just hope none of those Sudanese people receiving your food are homosexual, Christ Church Episcopal. We wouldn't want "those kind of people" to receive any grace now, would we?

The retreat into fundamentalism is well underway, faithful rainbow-dwellers! And in the Episcopal church in Overland Park, it is very, very real - you can see it happening.

Just want to leave you with this thought. I figured I would throw a little scripture in the mix, just to make things interesting! "As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to one hope when you were called– one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:1-6) I guess that pretty much says it all, doesn't it?

Grace and Peace (and today, maybe a dash of Hope - God knows we need it),
Andy B.