Friday, March 30, 2007

March 29th, 2007

Yesterday was Thursday, March 29th, 2007. There is nothing extraordinary about this day. My grandchildren will not be required to memorize this date for a history test. It was just a day.

In the Kansas City Star, front page:
+ A mob killing spree killed at least 60 people in Tal Afar, Iraq.
+ The Kaiser Family Foundation released a study that reveals disturbing truths about the relationship between television advertising and childhood obesity.

Second page:
+ A museum is about to open in Petersburg, Kentucky whose website features this teaser: “Other surprises are just around the corner. Adam and apes share the same birthday. The first man walked with dinosaurs and named them all! God’s Word is true, or evolution is true. No millions of years. There’s no room for compromise.”
+ James Dobson said of Senator Fred Thomson, “I don’t think he’s a Christian; at least that’s my impression.”

Third page:
+ In the last two years, three newborn babies have been abandoned in Orosi, California, apparently all by the same mother. The first two survived; the third died.

Page fifteen:
+ United States soldiers are going to be returning to deployment in Iraq after being home for less than a year, in order to support the latest increase.
+ U.S. ally Saudi Arabia has called our nation’s presence in Iraq “an illegitimate foreign occupation.”

Back page:
+ Iran and Great Britain cannot seem to agree about whether or not British sailors were in Iranian waters or Iraqi waters when they boarded a merchant vessel and were captured, a point of contention which has created international tension.

And so on.

So that’s March 29th, 2007. Oh, there was other stuff happening, too. I admit that I picked and chose stories for effect. Feel free to compile your own list.

The point is, what if we selected March 29th, 2007 as a snapshot of life on the third rock from the sun? What if aliens were in orbit on March 29th, 2007, and used their superior technology to observe this world for that day, in order to learn all they could about the planet’s inhabitants? (By the way, no aliens, as far as I could tell, are included in the exhibits in the aforementioned museum. Dinosaurs walked the earth with humans, but extraterrestrial life is out of bounds, it seems.)

Ask yourself: What am I doing to make this world a better place?

March 29th, 2007 was just a day, but every day is “just a day.” In fact, all we have is today. Yesterday is over and tomorrow is no guarantee. All we have is now.

Do you remember that Bible story where Mary broke open the jar of expensive perfume and poured it all over Jesus’ feet? In response to the protests of the other disciples, Jesus said, “Leave her alone. It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12)

Mary understood something about the present moment that the disciples didn’t get. Her act of extravagance was not wasteful, as the other disciples thought. It was a celebration of right now.

Yesterday and Tomorrow are in God’s hands; all we can do is live today. What kind of day will today be?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Render Unto ... ?

Has anyone else noticed that the lectionary text for April 15th has Peter saying, "We must obey God rather than any human authority" (Acts 5:29) and it just happens to be the day our taxes are due?

How fun!

Brotherly Post - Good Grief

My brother Brad has written a wonderful post about grief.
Click here to give it a read.

How's this for a definition of pastoral care?
"What I think doesn't matter, doesn't mean a thing, to the person actually doing the grieving. What we as friends of the grieving must do is help the person find that thing that helps them."

About dealing with grief, he writes:

"We have two choices when faced with grief. Deny it and lose ourselves in the undertow too powerful for anyone to fight alone. Or face it, embrace it, sit in the dark and cry for three hours -and I mean the gasping for breath, snot running down the face kind of crying, the crying that makes you forget where you are or what you did - and become stronger, a more complete person."

And his tag line is wonderful:

"Behind every cloud there IS silver lining, but there's still one big badass storm on the way."

Thanks, B. Good stuff.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

It's Not Just Me!

Recently I posted my dream for General Conference. Maybe it could be coming true!

Click Here to read about what Rev. Joe Easley and Rev. Mark Dicken are trying to do in the South Indiana Conference. Click here to read a list of some of the specific changes they are proposing. I sure do like the spirit of this idea!

Rev. Easley: "So many things divide us in the church. We need to learn how to disagree as Christians rather than disagree as the world. We need to be in dialogue. We are a stronger church because of our diversity. We all have one central commitment to Jesus Christ."

Rev. Dicken: "We (conference members) can all take a deep breath and identify who we are and what is important to us. We hope with this (change) there is an open manner so that there is no hidden agenda."

I wonder if there are any Methobloggers from Indiana who could give some more information on this thing?

(Hat Tip: Larry B.)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Sweet Sixteen - For Whom to Root?

I LOVE College basketball. You can't beat March Madness if you're a sports fan. Everything else moves down a notch or two on the priority list, doesn't it? Officially, for the record, I have Florida picked to win it all over Texas A&M in the finals of the Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament.
But "Who do you pick to win it all?" is a different question than "For whom are you rooting?" If their team is out of it (thank you, Mizzou), REAL fans root for the underdog, and so I'll be cheering for the lower seed in every game this weekend.

Should the lower seeds win, that would yield a final four of UNLV, Southerin Illinois, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee.
Then UNLV would beat Vanderbilt in the final. Now, that would be true MADNESS!
Go Rebs!
UPDATE (March 24): Crap.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Dr. Seuss on General Conference

I was unaware that Dr. Seuss had written about the United Methodist General Conference. And I quote ...

One day, making tracks
In the prairie of Prax,
Came a North-Going Zax
And a South-Going Zax.

And it happened that both of them came to a place
Where they bumped. There they stood.
Foot to foot. Face to face.

"Look here, now!" the North-Going Zax said, "I say!
You are blocking my path. You are right in my way.
I'm a North-Going Zax and I always go north.
Get out of my way, now, and let me go forth!"

"Who's in whose way?" snapped the South-Going Zax.
"I always go south, making south-going tracks.
So you're in MY way! And I ask you to move
And let me go south in my south-going groove."

Then the North-Going Zax puffed his chest up with pride.
"I never," he said, "take a step to one side.
And I'll prove to you that I won't change my ways
If I have to keep standing here fifty-nine days!"

"And I'll prove to YOU," yelled the South-Going Zax,
"That I can stand here in the prairie of Prax
For fifty-nine years! For I live by a rule
That I learned as a boy back in South-Going School.
Never budge! That's my rule. Never budge in the least!
Not an inch to the west! Not an inch to the east!
I'll stay here, not budging! I can and I will
If it makes you and me and the whole world stand still!"

Of course the world didn't stand still. The world grew.
In a couple of years, the new highway came through
And they built it right over those two stubborn Zax
And left them there, standing un-budged
in their tracks.

by Dr. Seuss
From The Sneetches and Other Stories
Copyright 1961 by Theodor S. Geisel and Audrey S. Geisel, renewed 1989.

Okay, I couldn't resist creating my own version (with sincerest apologies to my hero Dr. Seuss):

One quadrennium, on the way
to their Conference one day,
Came a Methodist Yea
And a Methodist Nay.

And it happened that both of them came to a place
Where they bumped. There they stood.
Foot to foot. Face to face.

"Look here, now!" the Methodist Yea said, "I say!
You are blocking my path. You are right in my way.
I'm a Methodist Yea and I always include.
Get out of my way, now, you are being rude!"

"Who's in whose way?" snapped the Methodist Nay.
"I read my Bible, so do what I say.
So you're in MY way! And I ask you to move
And let me proceed in my Biblical groove."

Then the Methodist Yea puffed his chest up with pride.
“I never,” he said, “take a step to one side.
And I’ll prove to you that acceptance is right
(Excepting I won’t accept you – day or night!)”

"And I'll prove to YOU," yelled the Methodist Nay,
"That I can stand here in the good moral way
For fifty-nine years! For I live by a rule
That I learned as a boy back in my Sunday School.
Never budge! That's my rule. For to budge might reveal
that the Bible’s not true, or that God isn’t real!
So I'll stay here, not budging! I can and I will
If it makes you and me and the whole world stand still!"


Of course the world didn't stand still. The world grew.
And since they were so stubborn, there was naught they could do.
“Irrelevant!” “Pointless.” “Old-fashioned.” “You blew it!”
And Methodists, both Yea and Nay, never knew it.

Disclaimer: the assignment of "Yea" and "Nay" to any one side or the other of any particular argument or another is purely coincidental. No actual Methodists were harmed in the writing of this silly poem.

update: edited for proper spelling of "Seuss" and thank you Beth for pointing that out!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Caption Contest

Please submit your suggested caption as a comment:

Updated: Winner = "Gives a whole new context to the phrase 'down under'."
Hooray for Adam!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Gays and Christians in the Military: I'm Asking, Who's Telling?

Blogger and United Methodist Pastor Keith McIlwain has a very thought provoking post about service in the military. Click here.

In the post, he asks, "If we believe that murder is a sin, then shouldn't Gen. Pace want an army of gay people, who in his mind are already immoral? Why shouldn't gay people be permitted to kill for their country?"

This question is wonderfully complex. You have the whole "military killing is morally different than murder" discussion. You have the whole "war is sinful, but necessary" discussion. And those discussions are interwoven in this case with all the standard rhetoric about sexual orientation. Wow! My brain is working overtime, just thinking about all the implications.

(By the way, Keith and John engage in a very respectful and enlightening back-and-forth in the comments of Keith's post, and I hope you read that, too.)

In his post, Keith quotes Stanley Hauerwas, who ponders why the military considers homosexual people morally unfit for military service, but not Christian people. Hauerwas believes Christians ought to be conisdered morally unfit to serve in the military, since they believe human life to be sacred, created in the image of God, and therefore would be unwilling to kill.

I served as an associate pastor in Warrensburg, Missouri for four years. Several members of our congregation were B2 bomber pilots and their families, support personnel, and other staff of Whiteman Air Force Base, just a few miles away. The enormous, black, no-way-that-contraption-should-be-able-to-fly B2 soaring overhead was a common sight. I have had conversations with military people about this issue for years and years. I was on one pilot's file to be one of the people present at the notification of his wife, should "anything happen" to him while flying a mission. I have prayed over men and women being deployed, and cared for their families while they were gone. I have embraced returning soldiers with tears of joy.

I write all that just to say that I cannot think of Christians serving in the military as any more sinful than anyone else. I know that, through their interpretation of scripture and their personal convictions, they are striving to live a faithful life and become the person God wants them to be, just like I am. I personally hold the belief that non-violent resistance is the most authentic Christian response to evil, but that's me. My friends in the military, who do not believe as I do, are no less faithful because they have come to a different conclusion that I have. All I can do is witness.

What I have a tough time understanding is the perspective that says a gay person who genuinely wants to serve in the military is somehow less morally fit to do so than a straight person of a similar mindset. Or, as Keith McIlwain writes it, "What is it about a person's sexual behavior that makes it easier or more difficult to kill?" I'm asking; who's telling?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Beer Drinking Church

In a way, it is good that church is the place where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came. But did you hear the one about the church that not only meets in a bar, but also partakes of the local brew? Read this. Here's their website. The church is called "The Journey" and beer drinking happens at a monthly program they call "Theology at the Bottleworks."

The article referenced above was in the Columbia Tribune last Sunday, and it says that "Theology at the Bottleworks is run by a wildly successful congregation of young St. Louisans called The Journey. The ... program is part of the church’s outreach ministry. And it works. Every month, dozens show up at the brewpub to drink beer and talk about issues ranging from racism in St. Louis to modern-art controversies to the debate about embryonic stem cell research."

It's all about keeping it real and relevant and taking the church out to where the people are. And apparently ... it got them in trouble from the Baptists. (I hope you read the whole story, it's great!) I guess The Journey is non-denominational, but they got a big loan from the Southern Baptists in Missouri to buy and renovate an old Catholic church building in St. Louis. At the time, the SBC was all stoked about this new and emerging church thing. Rev. Darrin Patrick (who did his seminary here in Kansas City, by the way) was praised and the model of ministry was lifted up as exemplary.

But then, they found out about the booze!

Now, they say things like, "Beer being served as part of a church presentation sends mixed messages to the community and causes confusion. Had we known about this before the loan was approved, I would have openly spoken out against a financial relationship being established."

So here we go:
Is this an example of the older status quo balking because younger people just do things differently?
Is this an example of a congregation compromising the church's doctrines in order to attract people and grow?
Is this an example of a congregation betraying the trust of a denomination by taking their money but not upholding their moral principles?
Is this an example of a congregation working in partnership with a denomination in urban ministry, but just using rather unique methods?
Do you have to drink beer in order to be relevant?
Do you have to not drink beer in order to be church?

I know a bunch of wonderful, Christian people who drink beer.
Is there a difference between drinking beer with a bunch of friends at your house and drinking beer at an official church function? If so, why?

Look, making your way in the world today takes everything you've got. Taking a break from all your troubles sure would help a lot. Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name ... and have a beer or two with a good friend? Is that church?

update: click here, read the comments for Darrin Patrick's own take on the situation.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Reverend Photog Again

After another long sabbatical, I'm again posting new photographs over at Reverend Photog. I invite you to come and enjoy my hobby with me!

Believing: Experience and/or Reason?

Yesterday the topic for Confirmation Class was "What does it mean to 'believe in' God?" Over the course of our conversation, I watched how various class members talked with their hands. I noticed that one of the students would put his index finger on his temple when he would be talking about what it means to believe something, and another would put his hand on his chest, over his heart.

When answering a question about what evidence or criteria you would need in order to believe something, the first student answered that it would have to be logical, it would have to make sense. In other words, he said, you couldn't just say that aliens had landed and were planning to take over the school. He wouldn't believe that, because it doesn't make sense.

Answering the same question, the second student said he based his beliefs on what he experienced, the things he saw around him, and his feelings about things. You believe things because you sense it, like you would believe that the wind is blowing because you can feel it on your face and see the trees moving.

Toward the end of the class, I pointed out how these two students seemed to talk about "belief" in very different ways. In fact, each one's answers had seemed not to make much sense to the other. And that's no surprise, since they were each looking at faith from two different perspectives. But really both of them are right.

Without my really planning it, our conversation about believing nicely illuminated the dynamic interplay between experience and reason that has been a part of theological conversation for centuries. Both aspects are very important for Wesleyan theologians, as they were to Mr. Wesley himself, product of the enlightenment as he was.

I thought it was pretty cool that, there in our little confirmation class, we had a pretty good case study to talk about the different ways people come to believe what they believe.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

"In God We Trust"-Gate: Godless Coin Foments Irate Email Campaign: But Wait, It Was All A Mistake: Or Was It?

I got an outraged email forward yesterday. It was informing me that the U.S. Government left the insciption "In God We Trust" off of the new dollar coins, and needless to say the email was very angry - big, red, capital letters angry.

It started out with, "You guessed it - 'In God We Trust' is gone!"

Wait, I guessed it? What would have led me to guess something like that? I'm not sure that the sender knows me very well. Like when I heard that there was a new dollar coin coming out, my first thought was, "You know, I'll betchya they leave off the "In God We Trust" inscription." Actually, my first thought was, "Who has the sports section?" Turns out, my wife did, as she was checking the weather forecast on the back page.

Anyway, the forwarded rant continued thusly: "Who originally put 'In God We Trust' onto our currency? My bet is that it was one of the Presidents on these coins. All our U.S. Government has done is Dishonor them, and disgust me!!!"

Okay, let me just stop you there one more time, email ranter. You really want to claim that everything the U.S. Government has done since George Washington was president is a dishonor to him? And your evidence for this is that an inscription is missing from a new coin? Yeah, I can see where putting a person on the moon is just a bunch of hooey in comparison to leaving an inscription off of a coin.

The email ranter then called for action. "If ever there was a reason to boycott something, THIS IS IT!!!! DO NOT ACCEPT THE NEW DOLLAR COINS AS CHANGE. Together we can force them out of circulation." Everybody needs a cause, I suppose. Just be careful about which one you back. You may get all fired up about it, only to have the whole thing end up as a puff of smoke.

See, apparently this whole things was the result of a glitch in the system. Reuters reported that the mint in Philadelphia is working to correct the "mistake" by making the "necessary technical adjustments." The coins, rather than the latest salvo of the governmental heathens in the war to eliminate God from the world, actually turned out to just have a simple "defect" that the mint is working diligently to correct.

Which might make these coins somewhat valuable, apparently. I read where one of the defective dollars sold online for 400 bucks! I'm having all of the church members here check their dollar coins for the appropriate inscriptions; we may have found a way to resolve our budget crunch!

But actually I have a theory, even more devious and insipid than the vast governmental conspiracy to do away with the divine. I think the one responsible for the ommission was none other than ... God. Here's what I'm thinking: God needed another trivial issue that would distract the religious right away from things that really matter. Bingo - just arrange to leave "In God We Trust" off of the new coins. It's not like that was going to affect God in any way at all. People are going to trust God (or not) because they decide to, not because a coin suggests it. Then, with the religious right busy forwarding emails to each other, getting all worked up and speaking in large red capital letters, the rest of us can just quietly be about our business.

I can't help but think that somewhere, Sacagawea must be chuckling softly to herself ...

Monday, March 05, 2007

Scriptural Gymnastics: Follow-Up

I've been thinking about "scriptural gymnastics" ever since Joseph included it in a comment on my last post. What a great term! I suppose that I infer it's meaning to be basically creating an interpretation of scripture that supports one's own perspective. The metaphor indicates that you would have to do some intricate exegetical backflips in order to get the Bible to say what you want it to say.

The opposite, I suppose, is to come to the Bible with a completely unbiased perspective - a tabula rasa that is unblemished by any smudge of experience or previous teaching. Hmm, what's the opposite of gymnastics? Maybe a scriptural 100 yard dash: straight to the finish line, stay in your lane, fast as you can. My claim would be that I had full access to the Truth of Holy Scripture as God really meant it, revealed to me.

Problem with that is, none of us can claim to come to God's word without smudges on our tabulas. We are all prone to error, temptation, and sin. Or, as Mitch said in our last bit of conversation, all we can do is peek at the thing, and from our own limited perspective. So there must be a middle somewhere in between backflipping and somersaulting to make the Bible support my opinion and sprinting ahead unswervingly claiming that my own lane is all that counts in this race.

We all know the various scriptural interpretations around the issue of acceptance of homosexual people in the Church. In no particular order,
- you've got your "burn in hell" people,
- you've got your "it's the behavior that's sinful, not the orientation" people, - you've got your "if they would only repent" people,
- you've got your "hate the sin, love the sinner" people,
- you've got your "accept everybody because we are all sinners" people,
- you've got your "I don't know for sure, but I err on the side of grace" people,
- you've got your "the Bible doesn't say anything about sexual orientation" people,
- you've got your "oh forget it, let's just start our own denomination" people,
- you've got your "I'll protest: anywhere, anytime, anyhow" people,
- you've got your "accept gay people or I'll kick your a**" people,
- and there are probably a few that I've forgotten about.

We have heard them all, we know them all.

Now, which one of these interpretations is guilty of "scriptural gymnastics?" Chances are, if you answer that question, you will choose one of the myriad of perspectives that is not yours. No matter where you are personally, everyone else must be wrong, right? That is where we have been for decades, and that is why the bitter, hateful, angry fighting has got to stop.

As I wrote previously, I am not advocating ending the conversation, I am advocating transforming it. I want to talk with passion and conviction about my belief that a person with the gifts and graces for ordained ministry should be ordained, regardless of sexual orientation. I want to talk with passion and conviction about my belief that gender ought to play no role in determining whom one is allowed to marry.

I have come to this belief, not by doing any "scriptural gymnastics," nor have I come to this belief as the finish line to my own little "100 yard dash" with Jesus. Or said another way, I have neither bent the Bible to my own perspective nor had the full Truth of the Lord revealed to me exclusively. I have worked faithfully, prayerfully, and diligently to arrive at this interpretation.

And furthermore ...

So has Mitch. I know Mitch, and I know he's peeking at things differently than me. But I would no sooner accuse him of being unfaithful as I would call the sky pink. He is not simply bending the Bible to his own perspective, nor would he ever dare to claim exclusive, full knowledge of the Truth of God (I don't think). He, like me, has come to his beliefs faithfully, prayerfully, and with all due diligence.

(Thanks, Mitch, for letting me use you as a case study!)

So how to we transform the conversation? The first step, which I kind of poked fun at in my last post, is to remove those for whom this whole thing is some kind of a hateful battle to be waged. Next, the remaining conversation partners have to understand how each person has come to her or his belief, so everything can be out on the table, and as transparent as possible. That means not only understanding a perspective different from your own, but also understanding how that perspective came to be. Only then can the conversation proceed.

I don't think we are there yet. We're pretty much still just fighting with each other. We haven't let go of the rancor, hatred, and bitterness. Until that happens, things will not get better for any gymnasts, sprinters, or anyone in between.

Jacob Lawrence

John recently art-blogged Jacob Lawrence. Thanks, John.

I had emailed to ask him to do so because for our daughter's birthday, Erin and I took her to a performance of the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, who presented a powerful recital based on Lawrence's paintings.