Saturday, June 24, 2006

It's Know Coincidence

I do not think it is a coincidence that I am reading Brian McClaren's "A Generous Orthodoxy" at just the same time I have been thinking about epistemology. It must be the Holy Spirit at work!

The first chapter of this book is called "The Seven Jesuses I Have Known," and it is all about McClaren's personal epistemological journey with Jesus. I am not through with the book yet; I intend to finish it this week while we are on VACATION! (Smoky Mountains, here we come.)

When we get home, I'm sure I'll have everything figured out, and all the controversies mended. In the meantime, I'll be blog free for a week. (I refuse to use the expression "a blogging hiatus," so I won't.) See ya in a week!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Labelling Epistemology? - Blabbering On

Larry B., you need a blog of your own! Your comments on the previous post have been so helpful for me in trying to process my thoughts and reflections. I hope other readers take a moment to click here and read them.

In my ongoing endeavor to transcend labels like “conservative” and “liberal” (even though I use them all the time :) ), I have been thinking about open-minded conservatives and narrow-minded liberals. Although these may seem to be fictional characters, they do in fact, exist. The narrow-minded liberal is the one who says, “I think every voice must be heard” and then adds, “Except for the ones I do not agree with.” The open-minded conservative is the one who says, “I think every voice must be heard” and then decides on a certain (conservative) perspective after rationally processing all of the options.

All things considered, I’d rather hang out with an open-minded conservative than a narrow-minded liberal.

My thoughts at the moment are about epistemology – how do we come to know the things we know? It seems fair to me to say that one who looks at many different sources and evaluates their merit, and who engages in this process continually throughout their life might be said to have a “liberal epistemology” whereas one who rejects different sources out of hand without honestly evaluating them, or has ceased to engage in the process of new learning might be said to have a “conservative epistemology.” A liberal epistemology says, “Here is what I know now; show me more!” A conservative epistemology says, “Here is what I know now; and I’m sticking to it no matter what!”

In his United Methodist blogger profiles, John from Locusts and Honey (scroll down on the left side bar) asks a great question: “Can you name a major moral, political, or intellectual issue on which you've changed your mind?” I am fascinated with people’s answers to this question. While pretty much everyone can name something, some people seem to have trouble coming up with an answer, and some people seem to have swung all over the place on an issue. Perhaps this is a reflection on their particular epistemology.

More rambling thoughts: There are people who do not agree with new ideas simply because they are different from what is known. This leads to the “we have never done it that way before” mentality so prevalent in our churches. This mentality, whether the individual self-identifies as liberal or conservative, is inherently conservative, by the classic definition of the term. But a "liberal" can have this mentality, hence the problem with labels.

Reading back over this post, it may very well the most rambling and unformed post EVER. If you are still reading and have made it all the way to the bottom, I am sorry. But I will just let you know that the blabbering of this post represents my thoughts at the moment, which are very nebulous. But maybe that’s just my liberal epistemology at work!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Rocky and Apollo ... Oh, I mean Sally and Steve!

There they were – Sally and Steve – ready to lead this workshop as a part of the Missouri Annual Conference. Sally, who is well known around the Conference for her outspoken liberal viewpoint; and Steve, who is equally well known around the Conference for his outspoken conservative viewpoint; leading a workshop together. And they were going to talk about, or so it said on the agenda “how your congregation can learn to work with our Social Principles.”

“Oh, this ought to be good,” we thought! Better than Rocky and Apollo! They had pitched the workshop using the familiar “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things, charity” quote which has been attributed to just about everyone, it seems, but often is attributed to John Wesley. The presenters were asking if we could still follow this challenge, given the divisive contemporary cultural atmosphere, especially on social issues.

First off, it was hysterical! Steve and Sally were making all of the stereotypical “liberal” and “conservative” comments to one another. Hearing the stereotypes spoken out loud, face to face, in a room full of people, illuminated just how asinine they are. (I mean the stereotypes, not Steve and Sally.) Yes, Sally does love Jesus. Yes, Steve does have a heartbeat. Yes, Sally does read the Bible. Yes, Steve does think about people other than himself sometimes. And so forth. It was very fun on that level.

On another level, it was very healthy and liberating to have a conversation that was framed with the understanding that, in spite of our differences, we love one another. Neither presenter was out to prove the other one wrong. Neither presenter was trying to convince the other to change her/his mind. The starting point was their disagreement, and as such they “named the elephant in the room,” which freed them up to actually have a respectful conversation.

However, on yet another level, the workshop was a perpetuation of the myth that there are only two points of view in the world – liberal and conservative. The reality is that things are much less cut and dried than that, opinions and beliefs are way more diverse than either/or. But because there were two presenters, one from the “left” and one from the “right,” the workshop itself succumbed to the myth that it was, in a sense, trying to bust.

Another observation (which might get me in a bit of trouble, so please hold me accountable if I am mistaken here): Sally asked Steve if his friends who are on the conservative end of the spectrum would have issues with his participation in a dialogue like this. The question got a few chuckles, but was a serious one. Steve had to admit that, yes, some of the more conservative people out there would not agree with his decision to engage in a conversation like this. But Steve did not ask Sally the same question. I think that was because everyone in the room already knew what the answer would be.

In general (go with me here), liberals have no problem with a conversation like this, precisely because it is a part of being liberal to have conversations like this! That is, in part, what liberal means – freethinking, open minded, not limited to set patterns or ideas. So naturally this workshop is right up their [our] alley. If you don’t take great joy in a conversation like this, you’re probably not a liberal! But it may be a bit difficult for a more conservative person, favoring traditional values and ideas, resistant to change, and tending to go with the establishment, to enter into such a risky conversation.

Now, I’m sure all my conservative friends reading this are just chomping at the bit to comment, and I hope that you all do so with respect and love. But before you do, I just want to give out some big time thanks to Steve and Sally for taking a bold step out in faith to lead this workshop. It was a risk for both of them, I am sure. I vote with Sally more often than I vote with Steve, but what difference does that make? Steve is my brother, a valued colleague in ministry, and a fantastic pastor! I hope the conversation held here in Missouri will trickle up to Jurisdictional and General Conference and we can together remember the words of Wesley (or whoever it was): Unity – Liberty – Charity.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Annual Conference - 3 Things I Brought Home

Our Annual Conference has come and gone, and all in all I would say it was a good one. First off, it inspired my brother to conceive of a heavy metal ecclesiology that I think holds a lot of promise for the reinvigoration of the mainline. But in addition to that, the three things I’m going to take away from this year’s gathering are 1) a shift in my thinking about church growth, 2) a growing understanding of what it might mean to be a liberal evangelical, and 3) a decision not to wear a stole in worship any more until I am ordained, an event I hope to be experiencing next year.

1) CHURCH GROWTH - At one time, I was so freaked out by using numbers to assess the health of a church, that I kind of did everything I could to avoid them. I never talked about membership (341 here in Northtown) or about worship attendance (~175) or anything, because of my conviction that there are as many healthy small churches as there are unhealthy large ones. But this weekend I started to think about “growing” and “healthy” as two different characteristics of a congregation. These characteristics are closely related, but not directly correspondent. It is perfectly alright to encourage churches to grow numerically, because that is a reflection of healthy invitation and hospitality ministries. But alongside the encouragement of growth needs to be the encouragement of health, and neither can be assumed due to the presence of the other.

2) LIBERAL EVANGELICAL - This conference featured a heavy emphasis on spreading the word, bringing people to Christ, reaching out to make disciples, and that kind of theme. It had the more vocal evangelicals in the bunch leaping out of their chairs to make extravagant pledges from the floor of the conference to increase worship attendance by hundreds of people over the next several years. But this conference also featured a heavy emphasis on risk-taking mission and social justice issues, a learning time led by Neil Christie of the General Board of Church and Society, and a long-awaited beginning of a conversation about how differences of opinion and belief among Methodists need not estrange us one from another, basically affirming our diversity as a God-given reality that is wonderful to live in. One breakout session featured two well-known Missouri clergy, both of whom who had been delegates to General Conference in the past, and who have voted opposite one another on just about every issue. Yet to focus of the breakout session was how it is possible to love one another and manage to get along, in spite of those differences. One of the commonalities is a strong, Methodist, evangelical spirit, one that “liberals” have been hesitant to claim for far too long. (Rest assured, I will be posting more on this later, as I continue to process.)

3) STOLE WEARING – I am always inspired to the point of tears by the ordination service, and this year was no different. Bishop Sally Dyck from Minnesota preached the sermon, and gave as passionate a proclamation of the Gospel as I have ever heard. A one-hundred voice youth choir presented the worship music, and organ and trumpet accompanied the congregational singing. As always, the new ordinands were present among the clergy, wearing their robes without stoles. As a part of the ordination, a bright red stole is placed over their head, symbolizing the servant leadership of the ordained deacons and elders. I suddenly was overcome with the conviction that I should, in preparation for my own ordination next June, stop wearing my stoles in worship services that I lead. I started wearing stoles when I was commissioned, having asked several pastors and my District Superintendent if it would be appropriate. But this next year is going to be different. I am going to remind myself every Sunday morning, every wedding, and every funeral, that I am but preparing for ordination into servant ministry as an elder in the United Methodist Church. I am not there yet. I am hoping that omitting my stole will give next year’s ordination liturgy that much more power.

So that is pretty much that. There should be some more information here, if you want some specifics. I guess I would give this year’s conference a B+. It was boring sometimes, exciting sometimes. It both inspired me and pissed me off. It was at once a glimpse of the realm of God on earth and a reminder that we are fallible human beings. It was Annual Conference, ya gotta love it!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Feeling Cool (I Think)

My name is Andy; I carry a badge.

No, really, I carry a badge! And it is pretty sweet. I just got it today, and I feel like a kid playing dress up. I have been the chaplain for the North Kansas City Police Department for a year and a half, but I hadn’t gotten my official badge and I.D. card until just today.

I don’t really understand this feeling I’m experiencing. It is kind of like pride, maybe a bit of self-satisfaction, and a dash of confidence, perhaps. Nothing has changed about me except for now I have a little wallet with a fancy piece of metal and a plastic card in it. But there’s this feeling that goes along with this badge. I think … I don’t know for sure … but I think I may be feeling … *gulp* … cool!

Let me make it clear right up front that I have never been and likely will never actually be “cool.” I was a music guy all through high school and college; I did drama and debate; I was really skinny and got really good grades. None of these characteristics would have made me at all cool. And now, at age 35, all hope of my ever being cool seems to have disappeared. Once you get to be a certain age, your chances of being considered cool are lower than grass.

But now I have a badge, an actual police badge! How many people can say that? That’s what makes me think this must be coolness that I’m feeling. Of course, in all seriousness, there is a lot of responsibility that goes along with begin the chaplain of a police force. I am not trying to make light of my role. But since I got my badge this afternoon, I have taken it out of my pocket about every fifteen minutes or so, just to look at it and smile. I couldn’t wait to get home and show my kids, you know? It just feels so cool!

Okay, I’m done. Sorry for that silliness. But hey, you wanna see my badge? I’m pretty sure it’s cool!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Happy Birthday, Little Brother!

Twenty-four years back,
I think you will agree,
it was a good day to be born.
Happy Birthday, B!

Tammeus on DaVinci Code

Here is Bill's take.

UM PACT - Seeking Info

The Missouri Conference is asking this year's conference delegates to make participation in the UM PACT insurance program mandatory for the local churches in our conference. I understand there are 13 conferences and 2 general boards signed up. Do any of you UM types have any experience with UM PACT, and if so, would you please give me your impressions of the program?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

DaVinci Code - Unfounded Fears

My wife and I have now seen the DaVinci Code movie. (Commence applause.)

My assessment:
First - "yawn."
Second - How is it that so many people are afraid of this story?

First off, interspersing an alleged "action" movie with enormous chunks of dialogue didn't work so well. It was like the book in that regard, but at least with the book you could put it aside when your eyes began to glaze over. Of course, it is in the big chunks of dialogue where all the alleged "scary" stuff is said.

Which brings me to my second level of assessment. Maybe it is because I am not a right wing Christian (label used rhetorically), but I am having trouble locating the source of people's fear of the ideas upon which Dan Brown bases his novel. Can someone help me out, here? Is our faith really so shallow as to be threatened by a novelist creating a popular plotline based on a few heretical teachings? What exactly are we supposed to be afraid of, here?

Actually, I have the same questions about some of the other "issues" that are in the public discourse just lately. For example, can someone tell me why I am supposed to be afraid of gay marriage? What exactly is the threat to marriage as a covenant relationship (or "institution" if you prefer) posed by two people of the same gender who desire to enter it? Or consider the fears of some who say that Mexican immigrants are out to colonize the United States and systematically erode our culture - where does that fear come from? I think I'll go ask my friend Gerardo, who works an exhausting, menial job six days a week in order to feed himself and support his family back in Mexico how he manages to have the energy left to plot such grandiose schemes of U.S. domination.

Fear of denominational decline; fear of lawsuits; fear of sickness or injury; fear of insufficient retirement income; fear of death. How much of what we do is based on our fear?

In a recent column, Bill Tammeus of the Kansas City Star wrote:

The most difficult part about confronting and overcoming that fear is that much of it is so rational, so understandable. In some ways, fear arms us so we can survive.
We are, after all, on this side of 9/11. Isn’t fear of additional terrorism sensible?
We are often victims of crime. Isn’t fear of muggers, car thieves and rapists rational?
We have seen huge corporations fold up and destroy people’s retirements. Isn’t fear that we’ll lose what we’ve worked for understandable?
We have watched cancer, AIDS and heart disease blow huge holes in our families and our circle of friends. Isn’t fear of a deadly diagnosis to be expected?
In fact, is it any wonder that we think Ralph Waldo Emerson got it only half right when he wrote that “fear always springs from ignorance”? It also springs from what we know only too well.

But then he goes on to write, "Fear, after all, has helped to create the poisonous atmosphere in which today’s political and religious rhetoric simply drips with anger and hatred." His claim is, while there is no denying fear's existence, we also must acknowledge fear's toxicity. That goes directly to motivation for our actions.

We read in 1st John that "there is no fear in love." Would it not be a more faithful approach to base our actions on love, rather than on fear? Risky? You bet! Jesus risked his very life for such an approach. But if one truly believes that "perfect love casts out fear," then fear as the motivator for our actions cannot be sustained. What we do, as Jesus himself did, ought to be motivated only by love.

I'm not afraid of the DaVinci Code, gay marriage, or Mexican immigrants. And I lament for those who are, because they are deprived of an opportunity to be grounded in God's love, and are likewise deprived of an opportunity to share that love with others. In fact, I'm not afraid of very much at all - fear is toxic. As Bill Tammeus puts it, "We cannot be true to our higher calling if we let fear prevent us from giving ourselves away to others. Casting out fear, in fact, may well be our highest calling."