Saturday, December 29, 2007
Thursday, December 20, 2007
As I reflected on this while watching people continue to stream past others wanting to leave, I came up with my theory, this was an instance of the personal vs. the crowd. On a plane, you are in a close space with everyone. No matter how much you might have been annoyed by the person in front of you crushing your knees by leaning back, you can still see them and relate to them. It is very clearly an individual that you are pushing in front of. At a game you are simply forcing your way through a crowd. Stalin's quote "one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic" seems very appropriate here. In fact watching people move through crowds at a stadium, there is little sense of manners about it. People usually are deliberately not looking at the people they are forcing their way past. If you press against the person in front of you, no one can cut in. Now I can understand not wanting to get separated from the people you are with, and I know how bad traffic gets leaving the Dome or another stadium, but still the bottom line is people as a group behave very differently when confronted with such a crowd. And I know it is not just that sports fans are less polite than travelers, since no one has every apologized for leaning their seat back into my knees, or talking too loud on their phone while waiting for takeoff. While I have experienced my share of rudeness at games, I have also had the most obnoxious Cardinals fan in the world offer his jacket to my sister when she was cold during a game at Wrigley Field. At the Vikings game I was sitting on the third seat from the end of a row of what seemed like the most active people in the stadium, I was getting up every other play it seemed at times. But even then I know several of them apologized for making us stand, people in the row are close enough to be personal, but that nameless person waiting to leave is not enough a person to warrant the same manners to.
My experiences at the Dome are microcosm of how we live our lives, it is easy to be nice to the neighbor, the one that we know and can see as a person, the challenge is in seeing Christ in the stranger, the faceless person in the crowd. We need to find ways to look more broadly and notice the people we are trying to ignore. I know I am guilty of this, I am apologetic as I cut people off in my car, and would be the type to cut in front with a quiet excuse me. But as I reflect on it, the challenge is to really respect people as individuals and not as crowd. To see the Christ in each of them. Guess that is just one more thing to add to my To Do List for 2008.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
I don't have answers to all of this ... but the issue weighs on my mind today. If anyone has insights into the tension between friend and pastor, I would love for you to share here.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Monday, November 26, 2007
In addition to just being proud of my youth, the point of all this is my own pondering on how we continue to develop such great minds. How do we keep making the church a place associated with active thought, not mindless following. One of the biggest criticisms of faith seems to be that it encourages people not to think. While I would agree that at times different faith traditions have discouraged new ideas, I think you can find that at one time or another most have also actively encouraged new thinking and new ideas. How does the church help to perpetuate a stereotype that the church encourages though rather than discourages it? How do make sure that people know that part of being a faithful follower of God is learning how to think for ourselves? Youth are not the only smart, curious people in the church, so how do we stimulate everyone to seek to better understand God, and what God wants for each of us in our lives? So in conclusion, people should be smart and ask great questions, like my youth. :)
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
So what sort of answers do I have to all the questions I am posing? I think that some of these are hard issues to deal with. I really believe that the church needs to be ready to be a home for political groups. It was because of the backbone network of churches that the Civil Rights movement of the 50's and 60's succeed. Even then King faced pressure from many in the church to take a more neutral standpoint. It is easy for us now to look back at the Civil Rights movement and talk about how churches were doing the right thing to be involved. But are there issues going on today that need the direct support of the church? I have two thoughts on this issue. One is that I believe the church needs to not be afraid of alienating people because of what it stands for, if it feels it does so because of what Scriptures and God are calling it do. At the same time I think the church needs to be constantly open to creating room for conversation. The church should not just be about seeking to live out Christ's message in the political realm, but should also be creating a space for dialogue. I really love the statement "Open hearts, open minds, open doors." I believe that part of that commitments means that the church should be open to people we do not agree with, and part of the being the church is providing a safe place for conversations to happen that cannot easily happen in so many other places in our highly fragmented society.
As I continue to reflect on all this I am left thinking in several different directions, so I imagine this all makes a lot less sense to my readers than it does to me as a writer, but I would hope that it stirs you to think even half as much as it as caused me to think, cause that is why I post these after all. Have a great Thanksgiving!
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Last week as part of my continuing quest for ordination I was part of a session where the probationary members, myself included, met with our mentors. One of the things that we talked about was listening. We all read part of an essay by Dietrich Bonhoeffer about listening. It mentioned the need for pastors to talk, or at least that is how I remember it, if he was not specifically talking about pastors, it certainly applies. As paid experts, we have a tendency to feel we need to talk and express opinions. Whether it is because we feel we have to, or because we just love to preach, we tend to be better at speaking rather than listening. I myself am a great example of that, and the very fact that I spend time every week blogging about my thoughts shows that this clearly is an issue for me. For all the benefits of the Internet, one of the great dangers it raises is that of everyone talking and no one listening. I know people read my blog, or at least I know people load up my blog's page, the reading part is just assumed by me. The problem is the reading does not ensure a dialog, and may just encourage further monologues. I tend to read CNN.com as my news source, not because they are perfect in representing what is happening, but because they work for me. CNN has recently added the ability for people to post comments on different articles, in particular political items. My tendency is to read these articles, read the posts and then rant to myself about the comments that are made, many of which seem rather insensitive and offensive to different people. the point is, even the CNN does provoke me to think, it does not actually create dialogue. While most people who post seem to read previous posts, the posts don't tend to actually talk to one another, just talk at one another. Because of the facelessness of the Internet, it has become more easy than ever to simply ignore the person you are attempting to "speak" with and simply go about espousing your opinions. How do we use the Internet, and just regular conversation, not as a way of demonstrating what we know, but listening and learning what others have to say, resisting the temptation to fill in silence, but instead letting it hang in the air to stimulate our thoughts and conversations?
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
The original thought I had was to talk about cynicism and my struggles with how it seems to conflict with a faith in God and what God can do. Usually the cynicism is not directed towards God, but towards people, and usually more particularly, some sort of system, the government, the church, or the like. All of this has begun to merge in my head with the research I have been doing about the Reformation for my adult Sunday school class. One of the big things in common with most of the Reformers was a belief in the total depravity of humanity, that left to on our devices we will run away from God towards sin and evil. A belief that makes the cynicism I espouse and at times encounter seem a little tame.
The conflict I have with all of this is around where does a faith in God override our skepticism about humanity. I prefer to think of myself as an optimist, but I am aware that sometimes this seems to require ignoring a history of results that supports a much more cynical outlook of things. My belief is not that of the naive, that I just don't think that people can be bad or something, but accepts a reality of who they are and hopes for something better. I never liked the concept of the total depravity of humanity, because it seemed to imply that either God had created us as flawed beings (which no one really wants to say) or that we as humans have the ability to so completely screw up God's creation, which either glorifies us, or again implies something about God's creation to begin with. While I agree with the general idea that no one can live without sin, and that without God's grace we are all to be found lacking in someway, I don't think this means we should be so negative about our existence, nor does it mean we should just forget that God's grace is around us in abundance, at work in the world everyday.
I think in the end cynicism just gets too depressing. It is easy to be skeptical about everything that goes on around me, to feel like nothing that is done will make a difference. I know the reality is that many attempts that take place, in our lives and in the church fail, but that does not mean we should just give hope. I keep going back to the passage in Acts, where the Pharisees are discussing what to do about Peter and the rest of the disciples who keep preaching in the temple. One finally says that if they are from God, nothing the Pharisees could do will stop them, but if they are not from God, the Pharisees have nothing to worry about. We need to have that God is at work in the world, and that there is a reason to hope, even when our cynical side says that these things never work. Most church plants fail, but that does not mean we should stop planting churches, it just means we have to keep trying, and know that God will find a way to work through us, to overcome our failings, and make something truly miraculous happen. There are lots of things happening in my churches and the the Minnesota Annual Conference, I could be cynical about these changes, but I prefer to have hope, that God will find a way to use what is going on for some greater good, it may not be a logical leap to make, but I prefer it as a leap of faith.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
(which I believe is the message of Scriptures) it seems that one of two things must be the case, God will redeem the world regardless of what we do, or in fact it is possible through our actions for God to not get what God wants. While God may or may not choose to redeem the whole world, I believe that at some level it is possible, through the gift of free will that humans have, for God to not get what God wants, this is perhaps the real way that humanity can sin. While I cannot be certain of all of this, and I am certainly open to a third option, I wanted to say what strikes me most about the second option, that it is possible for God to not get what God wants, it means that what we do really matters. Not simply matters on the small scale of how it affects our own lives, but matters in the grand scheme of things, matters to God. Suddenly the imperative to go into the world, to make the world a better place becomes all the more real. What are you doing to help God today?
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
This is where I struggle with the movie. The message of the movie is clearly stated, through God, anything and everything is possible. God finds a way to bless this man in all aspects of his life, removing seemingly impossible hurdles to help him succeed and prosper. On the one hand I do not want to try and say that God is not able to do great things, or perhaps even do all things, but I just struggle that the message of the movie is that God will give us what we want if we just have faith. I believe we should have faith, and I believe God will provide for our lives, but I struggle with the way the idea that God will provide in exactly the ways that we want. For me God is too good for mere money. The gifts that God gives us seem to go beyond such a material thing. I know that the Old Testament is filled with signs of God's prosperity, Abraham, Lot, Job, etc, but does this mean that this is the way that God is going to work in all our lives? I don't believe that God is simply there to provide for what we want. I believe that God is meant to challenge us to something more. It seems a little vain to believe that we know what is best for us and that God will provide that for us if we just follow God. Suddenly following God becomes a sound investment on our part, a way to obtain what we want. I think the concern I see in all of this is the idea of a prosperity Gospel, that for those of faith, God will s
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Thursday, September 27, 2007
In preparation for my sermon this week I wanted to explore some of the arguments of atheists to better understand why it is that people do not believe. I do this not in a hope of proving atheists wrong, but because I believe that Christians are likely struggling with the same issues and barriers to our beliefs, and so I want to find the people who can safely express their doubts and problems so I can better understand my own. I trolled the Internet for a bit and was quickly rewarded with a wonderfully heated debate between an apologetic for Christianity and several atheists posting on a blog. The argument basically consisted of both sides trying to lay out their own intellectual credentials and supremacy and at the same time assail the position of the other. As I read through the postings I found my self nodding in agreement at times with both sides on the issue. I felt that the Christian apologeticist did a much better job of accurately interpreting both Scripture and Christian history. At the same time I felt the atheists raised some wonderful questions and issues to be considered. The tragedy in all of this was that neither side was willing or able to give an inch. At no point would anyone concede the other person had made a legitimate point. Some of that is probably the nature of blogs, and Internet posting, but I also think there is something deeper to it.
As I was driving to church the other day I found the final piece of the puzzle. I was listening to MPR, Midmorning, where Kerri Miller was interviewing former Mideast Envoy Dennis Ross. In the part that I caught Ross shared his experiences negotiating with a belief the then-ruler of Syria. He talked about the art of negotiating and how it was seen, especially by this ruler, as an war of attrition, gradually wearing down the other persons defenses until their were forced to concede. He talked about part f what was needed was an iron will, the ability to outlast the other person physically and mentally. I can imagine Plato rolling over in his grave.
This is the heart of the issue however, the point is not reaching what is the Good, as Plato would say, allowing the Turth to come out, but instead wearing down the opponent until they concede to your side, whether or not it is the correct one. If it were possible for us to have absolute Truth, then there is no need to hold a conversation, and a monologue of facts will suffice. But I think we know that no one really has this absolute truth. What is needed then is a way to create more spaces for dialogue and conversation. We need to stop making debate a war of attrition and more of a joint seeking of what is best.
I do not know the source of this, but in my mind there is an alarming trend in the culture as i see it today, to push even harder for polarity, for this idea that there is a right and a wrong, a good and a bad (evil), a with us and against us. I want to see us change that culture. I want to see us find new ways to work with each other, so that the goal is not submission of the other, but a betterment of all. There will be a place for public speeches, rhetoric, and apologetic debate, but I want the norm to be more a climate of dialogue, not simply about asserting who each of us is, but instead looking for who we want to become.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
One of the key parts of the article in my mind was the suggestion that a similar style of leadership could help most denominations. The observation was that the more decentralized model, rather than creating chaos and disorder actually allows a system the flexibility to deal with the world. The brain functions in a similar way, not just having one way of doing things that is the same for all brains, but instead has the ability to map out all sorts of different pathways so that each person finds a their own way of thinking, of sorting through all the complex things that happen in a brain.
I am not sure I completely understand the science, either behind the starfish or the brain, but the idea of a more decentralized method seems appealing to me. As the article I read states, the flexibility of such a system increases creativity. The real strength I see is that in the context of the church it frees people to do ministry. Rather than focusing just on one way of doing things, or following a set procedure, individuals are empowered to do ministry in the way that works best for them. This does not mean we need to surrender all centralized leadership. Vision setting as well as holding up a standard of quality for ministry are still important aspects of a system, both at a local and denominational level, but at the same time freedom should be given to let new ministry take form in whatever the ways that they do. In the Gospels there is a great example of this when the disciples are complaining because someone not in their group is casting out demons in Jesus' name. Jesus however understands that what is important is the ministry that is being done, not the exact method of how, or by who, it is happening.
I am not sure the exact way to implement these ideas in my own context and ministry, but I really like the idea of working to empower ministry where the energy is, rather than trying to legislate a path for that energy to move along. I think part of being a pastor is finding ways to help everyone else do ministry, to empower the rest of the system to respond to the needs around them and to take their passion for God and share it. It may not work for everyone, but I like the idea of being more like a starfish.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
So how does this connect to spirituality. I think the struggle with my spiritual life right now is that it is too much like going on a stationary bike, I don't have a good destination or a goal, and so I go for a bit, get tired and stop. it would be a lot easier to maintain healthy habits and move towards spiritual growth if I had something to guide me, like a definite trail, and a clear goal or way of pushing me beyond my comfort level. I am not sure that spirituality ever be like that. I think that part of what makes spiritual growth hard is that it is not measured as easily as other things. These is not an easy test score to determine spirituality that you can check your growth against and see progress. We need to set some goals and motivate ourselves, not towards growth but just towards action. How do we make sure we are taking the time to do the work, pushing us not towards a concrete goal, but just towards a more concrete action of seeking. It is not a perfect metaphor, but it fits with the struggles I am having right now, how do I get my spiritual exercise when i so hard to track my progress. What struggles do others have in making progress spiritually? What are other ways of looking at this challenge? I am sure I will muse more later, but any thoughts are welcome
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Since the start of the "modern" thinking, so again basically Descartes and on, there has been a desire to understand faith and a tendancy by some some to look for rational explanations for it. Philosophers and psychologists have offered theories about how faith is part of the brain's need to make sense of the world. Some people would offer this as further proof that God is simply a creation of our intellect, one more way we attempt to make sense of that which we cannot yet understand. I prefer to think of it in a different way, one that is influenced by the fact that I believe that God is the one in control and not us. The same information could be used to say that we are wired, created, shaped, with an affinity towards belief and faith. That seems much more powerful for me.
The power of faith to me is that it works not on concrete things that we prove but instead is an expression of our understanding and beliefs around things we cannot prove. I may be wrong, faith may all be part of my desire to cope, but my experiences tell me otherwise. We can try and rationally destroy faith, but I think in the end we are forced to replace it with something else, because it is a part of who we are. Scientists place a great deal of faith in data, that their perceptions of the world are in fact accurate. Hume and Descartes both observed that such perceptions are in fact quite fallible. Faith is not meant as the perfect answer, it is the imperfect answer which grows and expands with us, and when the time comes, the imperfect will pass away, as Paul says, and then just the perfect will remain, a real knowledge and a love of God.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
On the other side of the coin I have read passionate comments left on CNN's site by people who claim they will boycott games with Vick in them, and that he deserves a far worse sentence then the one he is facing. They feel he is guilty of something quite horrific and his crimes are such that he no longer can be trusted to be the leader and role-model that an NFL player of his caliber is expected to be.
The dilemma I am pondering right now is where grace fits into this picture. Let us start with the assumption that Michael Vick truly is speaking from the heart. I want to believe him, and I think that for the sake of argument we can really only start from there. How does grace work in such a situation. I think there are three levels of grace needed in such a situation, the primary, personal grace of the individuals who are directly hurt by his actions, in this case it would be the dogs, and arguably the Falcon's organization, though it is also more of a secondary level, those people who are hurt indirectly by his actions, the community as whole, the society. The final level of grace is that which comes from God.
The first level: Since there is not much to say about the grace coming from the dogs I will look at the Falcons and how they are affected. what does their forgiveness and grace look like? Should they forgive him for his mistakes but ask for his signing bonus back? If the NFL lets him play should they keep his contract or should they break ties with him? What damage has been done to their relationship that cannot be repaired? I think the same questions are asked of each of us in the community. Certainly we have a far less direct interaction with this case than the Falcons do, but even so if the Falcons and the government gave Vick a full pardon and acted as though nothing would have happened, I think we could agree that damage had been done to the community would have taken place. Our trust in a system to be blind to prestige would have been shaken. We do have something at stake in this. We need to see that Vick receives the same sort of treatment as anyone else. So how should we forgive him. Should we forgive his actions but still say he no longer deserves the privelage of playing in the NFL? Should our grace be effected by grace Vick receives from God? If we assume by Vick's comments that Vick has asked God for forgiveness, then our faith would say his sins in this matter are truly forgiven, should this effect the level we forgive him, or rather the way we forgive him. Forgiveness in my mind does not mean a lack of consequences and can require reparations. The more extreme the crime and the harm caused by it the more need there is for grace and that grace to not simply try and ignore what has happened but to seek healing for all sides in the matter.
As I considered this matter, based on Vick's actions I think there is a need for the community as a whole to forgive and move on, if we are willing to trust his word, which I believe we should. If we do not trust him, then we need to work to a point we can, because to simply not trust him ever is more of a failing on our point than on his. To not give him forgiveness is to say that the repentance on his part does not have value for us. It belittles his actions and his words. At the same time I think this issue continues to stir the pot, at least in my head, about what does forgiveness look like. How do we forgive people in a way that is healing for everyone involved and helps the community move on? What does the grace that God look like in people's lives and how are we meant to reflect it here on earth? But these are questions to muse upon at a later time.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
One of the things I really liked from my many different worship experiences when I was at a conference in Kansas City was the way young musicians have managed to reclaim old hymns for a new generation. Not that these hymns have anything wrong with them as they are, but a different sound to them enlivens them for a new audience of listeners. As the pastor of what I think is a legitimate multi-generational worship service, we need to find a way that does music authentic to us. Our worship services needs to find the songs of its own soul. The "worship wars" between "traditional" and "contemporary" are played out in the constant tension of both playing songs which speak to our older members and songs which speak to our younger members. I know for me the theological depth of the hymns speaks more to me than much of the newer praise songs. At the same time, I crave a lively beat over the slower pace of an organ. As Light of the Lakes UMC looks to move forward, and I as I think about what I want in a worship service, I think we need to find what the songs of our own souls are singing and make sure our worship reflects and speaks to our deeper needs. Its different for each congregation, it is different for each individual, but we each need to find those songs that speak to us and sing them, from our souls if not our lips.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
There is a part of me that really does wish that Christianity was persecuted. I mean, if only it was a hard to be a Christian then we would only have the "real" Christians. If only things were like they were "back in the day" before Christian became part of the status quo. I think this is appealing to me because it makes Christianity more of an elite group. Suddenly being a Christian "means" something. The appeal becomes not what we believe, but that we are willing to die for what we believe. I see a danger, at least for myself in the morbid glamour of such a belief. Suddenly what becomes important is not what you believe but instead how your beliefs are viewed.
It is not suffering that makes us a "real" Christian. The message of Hebrews is not the only way to avoid backsliding is to have something you are willing to die for. The message of Hebrews, the way to be a real Christian, is to hold onto what you believe in. This may mean dying for your faith, but it also may mean living for your faith. being a real Christian is about believing in God, in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit, and living our lives in service to those beliefs. If that means practicing our faith underground like some Christians in China today, so be it, if it means attending worship every Sunday like everyone else in our community, so be it, but it means letting our believes be seen in our actions, just as those who ran the race before us, who got us this far.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Thursday, August 9, 2007
Saturday, August 4, 2007
One of the things I have been thinking about and wrestling with this week is what it means to be a church. The United Methodist Church is looking at launching a new effort to start hundreds of new churches over the next four years. I think this is a wonderful idea. I believe that the Christian faith offers something meaningful and relevant to the issues of today. What I am not sure about is what is means to be a church today. As the denomination looks to set goals around church planting and growth, by necessity it has to define what it means by a church in order to measure it. The challenge I have with this is that I think our understanding of church is changing. Is a network of house churches one church, or thirty? What is the difference between a worshiping faith community and a church. Certainly in the past stained glass windows and buildings, very physical elements have helped define a church for us. We always sing about a church not being a building but being the people.
Which people? John Wesley said that the world was his parish. He did not hold to the ideas that the message of the Gospel should be confined to arbitrary boundaries established by people in the church. Instead he wanted to take the Gospel to anyone who would listen and even to people who would not listen. I think the very of churches that we have today violates this principle. I think we begin to limit our understanding of the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ. If the message of the Gospel is meant to reach the world, the way that we establish churches today seems to instead create an understanding of us and them. Those of us in this church instead of that one, this denomination instead of that one, or even this faith instead of that one.
With the rise of a digital age and new ways of thinking about things I think it is time for us to get rid of our older understanding of church. I know there are some strong Biblical ties to it, but I like more and more the simple understanding of a faith community. I think this holds better to a sense of what we are trying to create. The language of church has been wrapped up and bogged down in buildings and structures, both physical and bureaucratic. To me the language of faith community is living and breathing in a way that the church is not. A faith community sounds organic and vital, which is how I desperately want the Church to be. The Body of Christ is meant to be alive; I want language that helps to make it so. I am not sure I know where this is all going, but I know my mind is racing, and my fingers are striving to keep up with the pace. I don't know that I have reach an end to this thought, or am at a new beginning, but for now I feel the need to pause at this point, the issues still swirl around me. What does church mean anymore? Who is a part of a church? What does this mean about membership? What does this mean about inclusion in the body of Christ?
Friday, August 3, 2007
How do we understand excellence as it exists both within perfection and outside of perfection? I certainly think that perfection requires a degree of excellence. Does perfection necessarily translate into meaningful excellence? What makes something excellent, and in particular when it comes to worship, how does this relate to perfection? Is perfection simply an expectation of a certain cross-section of our culture and society? The purpose of a lot of the ideas presented at the seminars I am attending seem to focus on making things perfect: we need perfect hospitality, perfect worship, and perfect follow through in order to achieve the excellence we are called to by God. While I will certainly agree that imperfections and mistakes can lead to people being turned away from the church for the wrong reasons. Does it follow though that if we just clean our act up, straighten everything out, and make sure that the worship service runs perfectly that we will see an increase in participation and impact? Is perfection sought by everyone or are there things that are much more important?
I am not sure how to best answers these questions that I am pondering. I cannot decide if my own issues with perfection come simply from my own less-than-perfect tendencies. As anyone who has read many of my posts can tell you, my ability to write is far from perfect. It would be possible to go back, checking each post carefully and make all the necessary changes. My wife in fact is very helpful in this regard, catching some of my more major ones for me. I am not sure the spirit of my blog centers in that perfect. I think a lot of my ideas are based more in imperfections. Does excellence mean remaining true to myself or mean striving for something else?
The more I think about this the more I am drawn to the idea that perfection is only one small part of excellence. I think that excellence is about living the fullest into who God is calling you to be. To try and reduce excellence simply to perfection, or perfect action, begins to remove the element of divine calling from what we are seeking to achieve. Perfection should not be a measure of arbitrary standards, such as grammatical correctness, or a lack of mistakes in the execution of worship and hospitality. Perfection should be a measure of whether or not we are living into God's vision and calling for us. I think perfection can become a false idol to worship, that somehow it will translate into something more than it is. It is easy to either undervalue or overvalue perfection, and I just want to better understand its place in all that is before me.
Thursday, August 2, 2007
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
This experience brought to mind something that Don Miller said in "Blue Like Jazz." He talked about a friend of his and her experience reading through the book of Matthew with cigarettes and chocolate. I am sure a lot of people who go to church would not associate a gospel with cigarettes or perhaps even chocolate, both of these are guilty pleasures, borderline sins. I like the idea though of the Bible being something read the same way we might read another book. How often do we just take the Bible and curl up with it in a big poofy chair? Why not? Do we ever read a Gospel from beginning to end, letting ourselves sink into the story and fully immerse ourselves in Jesus' message?
It is different than Harry Potter in many ways, but I think that it is good to remember the Bible is not just the Good Book, it is a good book.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Is there more required to being a good Christian than simply doing good works. An obvious aspect would be the a belief in Christ. If I am doing good works only for my own benefit, or based on the idea that it is better for the whole community, that is not really enough to be a Christian. Part of being a Christian is doing these things because Christ command us to do them. Now, this does make it harder to judge the difference between a good person and good Christian. Unless we are wiling to take the time to question a person's motives, we cannot judge purely from the good deed whether this is the actions of a good Christian or not. In fact it is probably easier to tell a bad Christian, because we can easily point to a number of things that are wrong, but it is much harder to show that a good act is being done for the right reason.
Even if we could find a way to judge someone as a good Christian or not, I still question the value in such a judgment. Where does salvation do to grace and not works fit into the concept of a good Christian. Is a good Christian one who simply believes in God and tries their best to follow God, rather than a someone who actually does a good job of following? Is the only way to be a good Christian to trust that God and God only will make your actions good?
I think in the end I want being a good Christian to mean more than just doing good acts. At the same time I am aware that none of us can be a good Christian all of the time, our own tendency to sin seems to great. I think a good Christian is someone who realizes this, and yet in spite of that still works tries to follow Christ, knowing they are never going to be that good at it.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Both of these perspectives got me to thinking again on the challenging with dueling ideologies. People have been highlighting once again the part of the historic Latin mass which prays for the Jews and their conversion. Certainly based on the tone of the language used it is easy to see how it might be considered anti-semitic, but at the same time, for many Catholics and Evangelicals, without Christ, the Jews are doomed to Hell like anyone else.
I raise these examples not to try and critique them or agree with them, but because I think they raise a major problem facing all of us at present. How do we deal with ideologies that are completely at odds? How do we tolerate the idea that something is both true to some people and false to others? There are some things that seem like we can find a compromise on. For example the endless debate between big government national government and leaving things to the states or private sector has room for compromise. What compromise can there be between some of the ideologies present today. How do we deal with ideas such as Catholicism, Islam, and global warming, that all seem to assert things that are true 100% of the time, that there is no way but Christ, or Allah, or that global warming is fact and not some theory.
I think what we really need to be looking for is new ways to deal with these issues. In the past these have been settled by the sword, or the gun, or just by shouting down the other side. But today we need to find new ways that such radically different ideas can live side by side. We need to find ways to hold in tension that X is both true and false. We need to find some non-combative metaphors for discourse.
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
My initial reaction to such a statement is concern. After all, a great many evils have been done in the name of love. Even such acts as spousal abuse can be done under its aegis. To say that what God does is done for love while touching on the one hand invokes some poor justifications in my mind. Now, if you accept that God, unlike the abusive spouse is perfect being, then the argument could be made that such concerns, while well founded for humanity, are not applicable when it comes to God.
It also struck me that this statement seemed a bit of a truism. Socrates brings up a similar point in discussing what is holy with Euthyphro. He raises the question of whether something is holy by virtue of being loved by the gods, or is something loved by the gods because it is holy. So is whatever God does an act of love because it is done by God, or does God only do things if they are acts of love?
I think where this becomes challenging to me is understanding God's place in the world. In this movie there is considerable strife between Evan and his wife Joan because even once he tells her what is going on she still struggles to believe and to understand what is going on. Evans actions, which are a direct result of God's commands/requests, seem to cause a great deal of harm. Now, the argument could be made that this harm is temporary and that it leads to the greater good of bringing the family closer together, but that is a whole different post.
Does this theology preach is my underlying question? I have raised a variety of objections, but ultimately does this theology come to the heart of what our faith should be/is that God is good all the time? Following God means that we are willing to make the assertion that what is good is good because God does it. Then again, maybe trusting in God would be easier if I had not been taught to be skeptical and question authority as a child.
As I continue to ponder this I am opening to people's thoughts ...
Monday, June 18, 2007
Thursday, June 14, 2007
The reality of churches in general today, but this church in particular is that the future is very much uncertain. Who can say who will still be a part of the church then, or if the church will even still be around, and if it is if it will still be at its present location. I recently walked along the line of trees we had planted and saw all the new life that is apparent in the bright green shoots of new growth that each pine tree exhibits. It is a powerful statement of hope and faith that we planted these trees. They will not have a noticeable effect for ten or twenty years on the landscape, and the church may not last three, but trusting in God, we plant the trees, symbols of our commitment to the neighborhood, and our faith that God will find ways to keep us growing one way or another.
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Anyone who has ever tried to pick up broken glass knows how easy it is to get cut. I think the chance of getting cut is just as great in the church. Homosexuality is not the first issue to divide the church, all the way back to Paul and Peter, there has been a struggle between who we should let be a part of the church and on what terms. The climax of the 2004 General Conference was the a resolution of church unity that came in response to much of the hurt and talk of separation that took place that year. The statement did not try and gloss over the differences in the church but instead focused on the greater value people felt in unity.
How do we stop the pain that occurs around these issues of division? How do we find a way to live into unity in the midst of diversity without hurting someone too much. I felt the tension again this year as the church prepares for another General Conference. How do find a way to end the conflict without more people getting hurt? It is easy to talk about unity and working towards a time of peace, but are we able to do that now? The Presbyterian church is considering legislation during its national session that would call for a end to legislation seeking to change ordination. The hope is that this would but an end to usual struggles around homosexuality and ordination. It is not meant to maintain the status quo, but instead to let people find a way to heal before continuing the conversation.
I see great deal of pain in the church around this issue and wonder if this might be the best thing for all of us. At the same time however I know there are people who are already hurting, pain that is already being caused by people who are being excluded from their call to ministry because of their sexual orientation. No matter what we do, people are being cut on the jagged edges of our broken church. I don't know the answer to all that is at stake in this. The image I am still left with, is of a Bishop, kneeling on the floor, picking up the pieces of a sacred vessel, working to repair or lives, just as God does.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Monday, May 7, 2007
Monday, April 30, 2007
I need a new sort of questioning, rooted not in doubt but in faith. The tendency is place questioning with doubt and certainty with faith. All of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience has taught me that life is not filled with certainty but questions. When I was in school we were always encouraged to ask questions, this was how we were meant to learn, but at the same time, questions often meant acknowledging that we did not understand what was going on. As a vain academic, the questions I was most proud of were the ones that pushed the envelope of learning far beyond what we were meant to have covered in the class. Now this worked for me, I was an intelligent child, capable of understanding many of the more advanced concepts that were being taught, my deep probing questions were good for where I was at in my learning process. At the same time I wonder if I would have had the courage to ask the questions if they were simple and basic ones that everyone else already knew the answer to. I am ashamed to say the answer would probably have been “no.” Academic vanity and pride have always been struggling points for me.
Often contained in the idea of asking questions is the idea that we will get answers. My experience however is that simply or complex, questions often lead to more questions. I remember in 9th grade trying to understand the periodic table of the elements and generating more and more questions about how electrons worked. The reason I share this is I think faith is meant to be the same way. Sometimes I feel we try to simplify faith too much. Rather than trying to probe the complexity of Jesus, we reduce him merely to the Way, the Truth and the Life, or the Trinity to creator, redeemer, and sustainer. Whatever the question, the temptation is to try and find a simply answer which resolves it for us.
What do I do with this as a pastor? How do I help lead people not to answers, but to questions that will give them a better understanding of the complexity of God. I think an atom is a really good way to look at God. The basic understanding of an atom is a ball. Then if you get more complex it is a series of shells (electron levels) surrounding a smaller ball (the nucleus). If you study more however you learn that electrons spin, and rotate and do all sorts of other things, so that simply to see them as shells is not right, and then you add in the uncertainty principle and learn that the shells we previously used to understand the make-up of the atom only tells us where an electron is something like 90% of the time. Is there an uncertainty principle to God? How do I deal with the human needs for answers when I believe we are better living in the questions? How do I transform the grammatical question mark from an expression of extreme doubt or skepticism into an expression of healthy growth? I know many churches that advertise that questions are welcome, the implication is that they will provide answers. I want to be part of a church that helps people with answers find more questions to ask, a church that peels back the various atomic models to find the deeper uncertainty of God that requires a greater expression of faith.
Monday, April 23, 2007
All of this pondering lead me to a remarkable insight. The challenge with any attempt to understand Harry Potter's religious significance is that our information is incomplete. Is Harry Potter meant to be seen as the Christ figure? Or is Dumbledore? I suddenly understand how things must have been for the disciples, crowds, and even the priests during Jesus' time, asking the question "who is this man." How could anyone begin to understand Jesus when his story was not yet done. The miracle of his death and resurrection is something almost too impossible to believe would happen even when you know it did, let alone before hand.
Theoretically the questions with Harry Potter have already been answered, copies of the last book are probably already being edited and polished off and ready to print, the mystery of what happens next is in part resolved; but for those of us who have not yet seen the book, we are left to try and ponder who is Harry Potter, what hope does he bring for Hogwarts, and how does he help us to understand the mystery of a man 2,000 years ago who changed the world with his teachings.
Monday, April 16, 2007
I am a person of ideas and thoughts. The concept of God can be made known to me and derived at some level a priori, that is before experience. Other people are much more grounded in their senses. This is not a bad thing, but just a different way of experiencing and learning about the world. I think is important to remember that for many, God cannot be known without experience, without something they can touch, hold, see, or hear. I think the challenge that Thomas gives to us worship leaders and pastors is to remember that in addition to simply talking about, praying about, and singing about God, we need to find ways to make God physically known to people.
Unfortunately, most people will not have the opportunity to touch Jesus, to place their hands in his wounds, and come to know his love and his relationship for us through such a tangible interaction. I do not believe this means all experience of God must be filtered through words, and certainly not simply through worship. But I think we need to find ways to make God real to people.
Worship needs to involve both a mental and a physical interaction with God. My favorite line of liturgy without question, is one that is often spoken during Communion, "taste and see." There is a powerful reminder in those words that when we taste the bread we are tasting God, we are touching God. I guess that is just something I really want to see more of in worship is sounds, sights, and objects that can be experienced as a reminder of God's presence in our lives. I think Thomas speaks to me so much because he reminds us that there is often more to our faith than just hearing it, that it takes something more to make God real in our lives. Each of us in our own way needs to find a way to reach out and touch God.
Thursday, April 5, 2007
Monday, March 26, 2007
I think that we need a new way that intraverts can participate in the Great Commission. It may just be that evangelism is a slower process for intraverts. We do not help make disciples with the same efficiency as extraverts. The relationships that I develop take time and so I think conversions that I make are much more gradual in nature. The life-changing is done much less by what I say and instead by what I do. Gandhi was an extremely shy and I would argue intraverted person. From what I recall of his biography, he never truly developed a skill for conversation. Though I love his quotes and his writings, I doubt he was very successful as an evangelist for his causes, by his words. His deeds on the other hand speak for themselves. The quiet dignity by which he stood up and resisted the foriegn rule of the British is moving and inspiring. The question for an intravert is perhaps not how do we get better about talking about our faith, but how do we live our faith in a way that others want to talk to us about it. Whether or not that is the right answer, I think intraverts like me need our own way to authentically live out the Great Commission, not pressured by how others do it, but in a way that is honest to who we are and faithful to God.