Saturday Plugs

I'm still working through The Message of the Psalms, which is coming along more slowly than I hoped. I think my interests lay elsewhere at the moment, and am wishing for other reading. It's a good book, and I'm about halfway through, but I think I might set it aside or at least read in conjunction with something else, maybe a psalm here, then a chapter or two from a different work altogether.

We watched Blade the other day. I had never seen it before, but when we sat down to watch it, it was pretty much what I expected: vampire hunter and damsel in distress try to stop vampire's plot to kill innocent people. Add in lots of blood, sprinkle in discussion of what does and doesn't kill vampires, stretch out over an hour and a half. Meh.

Near the very beginning of my seminary career a friend took me to see Robynn Ragland, who was playing in a small St. Louis venue. I pulled her CD back out the other day. In many ways she's a typical female act for this day and age: young attractive singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar playing folk-rock and musing about life's idiosyncrasies. But she's charming and can rock out and her songs are pretty tight, so go ahead and give her a listen. Apparently no one's updated her site in a long time, but see what you can see.

Around the web, do not press the red button. Heh.

A few more blogs

The Pub asks the question, 'Wouldn't church be so much better if they had it in a pub?' The writer has aspirations of starting a pub for just such a reason. I have a similar dream concerning a coffeehouse, so I can relate well.

And then Monk-In-Training writes Monastic Mumblings. He's training to become a friar with the Episcopal Church, and they're good people. I've seen Monk around the blogosphere elsewhere, but hadn't visited his blog until the other day.

Check 'em out.

Living by faith

I'm wrestling with two lectionary texts for May 29. Yes, it's a while away but I was doing some planning ahead today.

The first is Matthew 7:21-29, where Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom, but the one who does my Father's will will enter in." (Slightly paraphrased) This does not sound like a 'pray this prayer and you're in' type of situation.

The second text is Romans 1:16-17, in which Paul quotes Habakkuk: 'The righteous will live by faith.' Now what's that mean? Where's the emphasis? Is it on 'will live,' and does that mean 'will not die' or 'will structure one's life'? Or is the emphasis on 'by faith,' and does that mean 'assent,' 'trust,' or 'faithfulness?' And if the proper rendering ends up being, 'shall not die because of one's assertion,' how does that square with Jesus' words in Matthew 7? Or does it?

This is partially why I continue to think that the categories of faith and works aren't as stark as some would have us think. Attempts to speak of the importance of acting in the world are often met with accusations of advocating 'works-righteousness.' 'Faith without works is dead,' we hear James say. There is a connection between the two that I can best describe as God transforming us from selfish to selfless, through grace realized through faith to do those works to which God calls us. This is really a muddled answer to my earlier questions though.

Greg is currently talking about similar issues. He describes Biblical renderings of salvation as 'contextual,' that is, we cannot ascribe overarching themes to texts where such themes might not properly fit. As I mentioned, Paul quotes his line roughly from Habakkuk 2:4, where the prophet talks about the righteous living properly; are faithful to God's decrees as opposed to the 'proud...[whose] spirit is not right within them.' This rendering still does not square with 'assert and do not die.'

A Day of Celebration

I had completely forgotten that today is recognized as William Shakespeare's birthday. So I DO have some movie recommendations for you: Laurence Olivier in 'Richard III,' the 1968 version of 'Romeo and Juliet' and NOT the DiCaprio/Danes version (a good concept, but it ended up being more flash and less substance), Kenneth Branagh in 'Hamlet,' Kevin Kline and Co. in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' Lawrence Fishburne in 'Othello,' and Kenneth Branagh again in 'Much Ado About Nothing' (and do your best to ignore Keanu Reeves).

In addition, I share my favorite sonnet, number 112:

Your love and pity doth th' impression fill
Which vulgar scandal stamp'd upon my brow
For what care I who calls me well or ill,
So you o'er-green my bad, my good allow?
You are my all the world, and I must strive
To know my shames and praises from your tongue;
None else to me, nor I to none alive,
That my steel'd sense or changes right or wrong.
In so profound abysm I throw all care
Of others' voices, that my adder's sense
To critic and to flatterer stopped are.
Mark how with my neglect I do dispense;
You are so strongly in my purpose bred
That all the world besides, methinks, [are] dead.

Happy birthday, Bard.

Saturday Recommendations

I've finished Conversation as Ministry and have moved on to a Walter Brueggemann book called The Message of the Psalms. See? Almost two months after the fact, I found an Old Testament study book. He divides the Psalms into three categories: psalms of orientation (positive, serene, order, focused on God's goodness), disorientation, (negative, chaos, lament, asking why God is doing or not doing something) and reorientation (God bringing the writer to a new place). I finished his discussion of the psalms of orientation last night and found his points quite compelling. The psalms on which he focused deal with God creating order in creation (8, 33, 104) or creating order through the Torah (1, 119) or when Israel follows or fears God (111, 112). I share a paragraph on which I've been chewing since last night. It comes during a discussion of Psalm 131:

'The piety reflected in this psalm is directly opposed to modernity with its drive toward independence, self-sufficiency, and autonomy. It is worth noting that the Psalms deny the Oedipal inclination that there can be freedom only if the controlling, authoritarian father-god be slain or denied. The myth of modernity believes that real maturity is to be free of every relationship of dependence. But when the metaphor is changed from a harsh controlling father to a gently feeding mother, it is evident that the human goal need not be breaking away, but happy trust.'

After this book I'm moving back toward some non-theological books. At least explicitly.

I picked up another Black Keys album the other day, their first entitled 'thickfreakness.' It's in the same vein as their later 'Rubber Factory:' blues-rock from a two-piece in Akron, Ohio ('Rubber Factory.' Seriously). I've only listened through this one once so far, but it seems a little more raw and mellow than their later one. Not that I'm complaining.

Again, no new movies this week. I've been busy. But I'll say this: I'm slightly more excited about the new Batman movie than the new Star Wars. Only slightly. Now I know what many might be thinking: all Batman movies (and spinoffs) since the 1989 Keaton/Nicholson original have been definitely not great. Okay, that's just what I've been thinking. But I have high hopes that this one will be different (read: good). Don't get me wrong, I'm plenty thrilled about the new Star Wars and have high hopes that this one will be different (read: good) as well.

I've pretty much exhausted the TV shows that I watch, so here's the thing: starting next week I have to find a new area of pop culture from which to recommend trinkets for your viewing/listening pleasure. I'm regretably too busy to attend the theatre, too bored to attend ballet, and too much of an amateur to review wines or coffees. The extent of my review would be, 'Wow, this sucks. It just doesn't taste good.' I don't figure that would be too helpful for you. Plus why the heck would you come here looking for wine or coffee reviews anyway? So by next week I'll figure out something else. Maybe a weekly painting ('This one has pretty colors and this one's all smeared'). Yeah, we'll see.

Around the web, Greg is beginning a discussion on salvation. Part One is a pretty good read.

New Look

I just felt like changing things up a little bit and this was my second-favorite format provided by Blogger. Plus I wanted to lighten things up. Much as I like black, it was time to make things a little more cheery.

Cyberholics Anonymous

I've always had a love-hate relationship with the internet, more specifically with discussion fora. I first logged on to the discussion fora over six years ago when they were just beginning, indulging in some light-hearted conversation and connecting with other UCC members across the country. At some point they added a theology discussion and more serious battle lines were drawn. My wife in particular can attest to my stewing (boiling, really) over some of the discussion that took place there. It was an addiction that I couldn't break that was informative as it was infuriating. For those who doubt that 'conservatives' are not always welcome in the UCC, I know of some who let me know once upon a time that I wasn't, in more 'conservative' days. Of course, that can hardly be chalked up to 'The UCC,' but pockets of members really don't want 'conservatives' here, and vice versa for 'liberals.'

I digress. Sort of. Long story short, I logged off for a time only to allow myself to get sucked back in at a later date.

In the meantime I wandered through other fora, some out of passing curiosity and some on a more permanent basis. The subjects varied as did the tone of discussion, and I like to think that I've been informed, for better or worse, by visiting these places over the years. Part of it has been my itch to always be writing, and part of it was a morbid fascination with arguing with faceless monikers, and part of it has been the realization that I do come away with something from these places as learnings have manifested themselves in other writings, conversations, and even sermons. It's the same with any blog addict, which I resisted becoming until just recently.

I'm coming to a point where my interest in the cyber-battlefield has greatly waned. I only visit two or three places on any kind of an irregular basis nowadays. I'm more a blog reader now than a forum arguer, and I can't say that it's always a suitable replacement, if I was looking for a replacement at all. Perhaps my original intent to make this wacky little place the focus of my internet musings is working, or I'm simply feeling the need to move on to other ventures entirely, or both.

'Be It Further Resolved...'

The United Church of Christ has made available the resolutions that will be up for debate this summer at its biennial General Synod, ranging from mildly debatable (advocating the sole use of fair trade coffee within the UCC) to overtly controversial (considering divestment from companies that support Israel, resolutions both for and against the blessing of same-sex marriage) and from the pretty uninteresting (recommending changes in how Synod meets in the future) to theologically significant (asking what it means to call oneself a Christian denomination) to the fairly overreactionary (making sure 'The Comma' doesn't replace the traditional UCC symbol). As a delegate I have much to study and think about. I'll share some of my thoughts on some of these resolutions in the weeks and months to come.

Enter Pope Benedict XVI

VATICAN CITY (April 19) - Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, the church's leading hard-liner, was elected the new pope Tuesday evening in the first conclave of the new millennium. He chose the name Pope Benedict XVI and called himself ''a simple, humble worker.''

Ratzinger, the first German pope since the 11th century, emerged onto the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, where he waved to a wildly cheering crowd of tens of thousands and gave his first blessing as pope. Other cardinals clad in their crimson robes came out on other balconies to watch him. ''Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me - a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord,'' he said after being introduced by Chilean Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estivez. ''The fact that the Lord can work and act even with insufficient means consoles me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers,'' the new pope said. ''I entrust myself to your prayers.''

The crowd responded by chanting ''Benedict! Benedict!'' If the new pope was paying tribute to the last pontiff of that name, it could be interpreted as a bid to soften his image as the Vatican's doctrinal hard liner. Benedict XV, who reigned from 1914 to 1922, was a moderate following Pius X, who had implemented a sharp crackdown against doctrinal ''modernism.''

Ratzinger served John Paul II since 1981 as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In that position, he has disciplined church dissidents and upheld church policy against attempts by liberals for reforms. He turned 78 on Saturday. The new pope had gone into the conclave with the most buzz among two dozen leading candidates. He had impressed many faithful with his stirring homily at the funeral of John Paul II, who died April 2 at age 84.

Ratzinger is the first Germanic pope since monarchs imposed four men from that region in a row in the 11th century.

I am of two minds. Well, not really. Benedict is known for his stressing personal piety and opposing any sort of equal ordination rights for women, as well as stifling ecumenical dialogue (making it a point to let Protestants know they aren't welcome at the eucharist). He's to the right of John Paul II, which is saying something.

I read the piece speculating on why he chose the name Benedict, and wonder about the softening of his image. It's one thing to choose a name to soften one's image, but actions will tell the real story.

Axes to Grind

We all have 'em. You can watch them pop up regularly depending on who you read or listen to. Greg's has been megachurches as of late. Chuck's is whatever Bush does. Dave's is abusive fundamentalism. One of Nick's is Dave Matthews Band. That one hurts. But anyway, after thinking about this this morning, I began wondering if someone could pinpoint an axe to grind on my silly little blog. And I think you can, at least in recent postings.

Read here, here, and there's some in here. I thought there'd be more, but I guess that's been it lately.

I wonder how well the church lives it's faith, and how much better it could. Something clicked with me those three years that I constantly heard that 'the church is mission' and we are called by Jesus to go forth in love (as opposed to staying here and waiting for people who need love to come to us). The least of these aren't always, if ever, going to show up on our steps so we can start taking care of them. It involves going outside our comfort zones, outside our Starbucks and malls, setting aside our Purpose-Driven Life study or whatever William Sloane Coffin book we're getting through this week, and doing something. To care is to do. Where have I heard that before?

I thought this post was going to be longer, but I really can't think of much more to add right now. I'm not much for ranting this morning and it doesn't help that I'm getting convicted by my own words.

P.S. Journaling has skyrocketed since last I wrote. I put down 6 1/2 pages yesterday, whereas before that my longest entry has been...3. We'll see if that keeps up, though.

The Blessing and Curse of Journaling

I've kept one off and on since I was a camp counselor. At the time I'd been reading A New Kind of Christian and was inspired by the narrator's use of black Mead Comp books in his spiritual journey that I figured such a practice could be incorporated into my daily routine. The practice lasted maybe 2 weeks into my seminary career, floundered for a few months, was picked back up the following summer, was dropped again, was switched to prayer journaling, which was the best I've ever done with the exercise. Again, inspired by someone else's daily practice, I set aside an hour to light a candle, burn some incense, make some tea, and reflect on the activities of the day. This practice lasted past graduation and through my church search. And now when some of the best stories I'll (n)ever be able to tell are upon me, I journal hardly ever.

I figured that this silly thing would be a suitable replacement. It's really not. I use it for theological reflection, recording some sermon fodder, and focusing most of my internet distraction time on one site, but I can't divulge everything on such a public medium.

I've enjoyed the journaling I've done over the years. I just can't always stick with it. Events pile up, real life gets in the way. I have to be in the moment more than I can set aside time to reflect on it. And then I look over past entries and think, 'it would've been nice to keep this up.'

So witness my latest attempt to record the day-to-day musings of a Christian sojourner. One thing I'll say is that I seem to feel most inspired to do this near the summer. Hm. Maybe there's something to this post that I missed.

A Special Welcome to Googlers

Reach Out and Touch the Screen has a good entry on people who stumble onto one's blog after doing a Google search. I'm afraid that those who have come here via a search are not nearly as disturbing/amusing as hers, but I offer some thoughts nonetheless to those coming across my trifle of a site looking perhaps for something else.

Wesleyan Quadrangle - I get a couple of these every week. Yes, it's comprised of four sides: reason, experience, scripture, and tradition. That's really all I got. Want origins, a backstory, doing a college or seminary paper? I'm not gonna be much help.

allintitle: Philosophy Coffee - You've come to the right place...I think. Welcome.

UCC Conference resolutions General Synod 2005 - Go to Best I can do.

ohio heidelberg college girl blog - You must be very disappointed.

"karl barth", "universal salvation" - Yep, he had a brilliant take on how everyone gets in. It really is a cool little argument on which to chew instead of reaching right for the sticks and lighter fluid.

Walter Brueggemann divestment - How these might go together is questionable, although I heard he wrote some stuff about Israel once (this is sarcasm, play along).

schiavo "loss of consortium" - I didn't even write very much about this circus, but it was enough to bring someone here once upon a time. And probably never again now that we've moved on to the next personal scandal.

"praise songs" and "creation stories" - Not a bad one. I can't think of any praise songs off the top of my head that deal with the creation stories, but I'm sure there are some, albeit maybe not directly. Sorry.

See? Not nearly as colorful as what Liz writes about. But I gave it a shot. Maybe in a few months we can do this again.

Saturday Recommendations

Here's Saturday, and here's some stuff to enjoy.

I've been breezing through two shorter books this week, the first being The Gospel According to Tony Soprano. Got a favorite TV show or movie? Wait long enough and someone will pick it apart to look for theological themes. The main theme on which Chris Seay focuses is human depravity, how The Sopranos actually mirrors our own lives more than we'd like to admit. But you have to look at the show as more as just 'about the mob,' and hone in on the characters. Still, it's not one I'm going to use for a study group any time soon. So I finished that earlier this week and am now in the middle of Conversation as Ministry, which is about exactly what the title says: how to enter into pastoral conversation, how to help guide it, the importance of meeting people in their own skin, and so on. It's a good read, complete with lots of anecdotes from over 20 years.

Widespread Panic's 'Bombs and Butterflies' has been in my car this week while I've been driving around. That sentence sounds funny if you read it the right way. They just got back from a year-long hiatus and honestly I haven't listened to much of their new stuff. They're a rock/country/blues outfit with a rabid (and sometimes very critical) least in my experience.

No movie recommendation this week. Yeah, I know. SCANDAL!!

Family Guy returns to Fox on May 1. While you wait, watch the underappreciated Arrested Development.

Around the web, Melon Man is fighting evil in small-town Ohio. He sounds strangely like someone I know...

Have a good week.

Prayers Over Coffee

V, undergoing surgery early this morning.

W, who just might be mad at me after what I said a few nights ago.

X, who I just found out is getting married early this summer.

Y, who might finally be close to finding a church.

Z, with whom I have no real grudge to bear any more but against whom for whatever reason I have kept one close anyway.

And for the church in general, I pray for authenticity, integrity, and conviction. Authenticity in word and deed--ESPECIALLY deed--to the two greatest commandments, authenticity to one another, for speaking the truth in love, IN LOVE, when another is being less than authentic, authenticity to one's own failures. Integrity to Jesus' message and a profession that his life was worth emulating in any way. Integrity to carry one's cross. Integrity to self-sacrificing love that pushes us outside our comfort zones. Conviction when we become too comfortable. Conviction when we are no longer surprised by God. Conviction when we lose our saltiness. I pray for authenticity, integrity, and conviction, that we will be continually transformed into willing followers of one who showed love, forgiveness, and passion from God and toward neighbor no matter what the world around him thought.


10 Random Thoughts to Prove I Still Write Here

~Four committee meetings this week. What moron set THAT up? Oh, wait...

~I haven't seen the finale of The Sopranos Season 5. I know what happens, I just haven't seen it.

~I know that you want a new fellowship group, but you need to realize that you need to help start it.

~Putting up the flag in the morning and taking it down in the evening is mildly irritating. But I don't want it to get all ratty like the last one.

~How come every time I mention doing a hands-on mission project you just stare at the floor?

~My cat likes to climb on the keyboard. nb Like right now.

~The Phish CD is overdue.

~How long could I go before my readers completely give up looking for a new entry?

~Which do you think God cares about more: right doctrine or right action? Take your time before answering.

~My other cat likes to climb on...everything. Little weirdo.

An Ode to St. Louis...Sort of

Chuck has some thoughts to share on living in Missouri in general and St. Louis in particular. It prompted me to reflect on my time there a little.

I spent a little over 3 years there, having attended Eden Seminary, and I have to say that by the end of that time I had become pretty infatuated with the place, much to my surprise. I arrived there from Smalltownville, Ohio and was immediately repulsed by Big City cynicism, detachment, rudeness, and whining. Oh, how Big City folk like to whine about the rest of humanity.

But after I relaxed a little and realized that I myself ironically could detach myself from the detachment, my time became much more pleasant. Our group of friends became appreciators and patrons of local St. Louis establishments: museums, coffeehouses, bars. We'd wander Forest Park on a sunny afternoon and cruise University City in the evening. We'd catch some of the local musicians at Blueberry Hill or Cicero's. We visited the haunted Lemp Mansion and ride up those little egg things to the top of the arch. I frequented the penguin exhibit at the zoo when I wasn't enjoying a bottomless cup at Kaldi's or a sandwich on The Hill.

I came to appreciate what the city had to teach me about social justice as well. Racial tensions run deep in St. Louis even though it was quite a hotbed during the civil rights movement. Gay rights groups have strong anchors there. You can visit the local Reform synagogue and hear about how the Jewish community lives among a large Christian population. Area UCC churches frequently join with others in some or all of these causes.

St. Louis left its mark on me, after I let my guard down a little. Now you can view the night skyline whenever you wander into my office.

But after a little more consideration now that I'm away, I'm guessing that romantic notions will fade as time passes and on the opportunities I get to go back. After all, I didn't really experience any of the harsh realities present in the city, having lived in more well-to-do areas and having only really spent time in 'safer' parts of town. The downside of the city wasn't immediately apparent to me if I didn't want it to be. I could leave my field placement in Florissant and travel back to Webster Groves whenever I was finished for the day without having to deal with the area's poverty on any real basis.

I still love St. Louis, but if and when I return for any period of time we'll have to sit down together and get past the infatuation and into a real relationship. I already am, but that's easy to do 500 miles away.

Saturday Recommendations

Good morning. Here's your weekly list.

Hey, guess what? Yep, still working through From Beirut to Jerusalem. The end is near, though, and I have a few successors stacked on my nightstand. But I can't share those with you yet. So check out Dan Brown's Angels and Demons instead. Yes, he's the author of 'The Da Vinci Code.' This is a timely recommendation because a lot of it takes place at the Vatican and it's actually how I learned about what happens during conclave. It also deals heavily with the debate between science and religion.

We watched The Village this week. We'd both seen it before, but we wanted to share it with friends. The people with whom we were watching it 'figured it out' about 3/4 through, but they did better than me when I first saw it. It wasn't until The Thing happened that I thought to myself, 'Oh yeah...this is M. Night Shyamalan.' The Sixth Sense remains his best effort, but this is my second favorite.

I've been listening to Morphine this week. It's not as bad as it sounds. Their frontman, Mark Sandman, died in 1999, and the remaining members have since regrouped with two new members to form the Twinemen, but I haven't listened to them too much. Morphine was a pretty mellow act featuring drums, bass, and baritone and tenor saxophone. Check out their first album, 'Cure for Pain.'

Your TV recommendation: baseball is on. Watch baseball. Thank you.

Around the web, check out Progressive Protestant. Not only does he present current events in the world and Christianity, but every Friday you get to look at pictures of his cats.

That's it. Have an excellent week.

Special Attention

What makes a church different from a country club?

We have a building we try to keep beautiful. We have membership rosters although visitors are always welcome, but usually only during open hours. There is at the very least an unspoken dress code. There are no proper membership dues, but people are encouraged to give of their own volition and ability to fund various programs. Maybe we'll do some community service or donate a fair amount to a handful of charitable organizations.

So what do we do here that country clubs don't do?

Part of it is our definition. We maintain a definition a theological definition of some sort: because we follow Jesus, because we are called by God, because we have experienced new life through the Holy Spirit, we are God's representatives on earth, we are an instrument of God's kingdom. Take your pick. Meanwhile, country clubs, the Lions, the Rotary, the VFW, the Moose Lodge, all those others, are 'just being nice.' We have a higher calling, we say. A higher commitment. A greater goal. We have Jesus.

I'm almost finished with From Beirut to Jerusalem. Mercifully I am about 125 pages from the end this 576-page book. The chapter I just finished dealt with the media spotlight on Israel. Why does Israel get so much attention? And why the Palestinians? Why not Iraq and the Kurds? Why not Lebanon and the Syrians? And why so much particular focus on those incidents where Israeli forces destroy Palestinian homes, suppress Palestinian violence through violence? Why so much attention on this situation and in particular the actions of one side? Friedman's answer: because, no matter how suppressed this might be in the psyche of its collective mind, the West expects better from a people who from their earliest and humblest beginnings claimed to be different, to be special. They are a separate case to be judged by separate criteria. And due to its historical significance in the West, the West agrees and judges accordingly...until the criticism comes.

Oh, how sometimes Israel might like to be just another country on the world's stage. But historical claims prevent that. And oh, how sometimes the church might like to be just another charitable non-profit 'nice' organization. But historical claims prevent that, too. And sometimes the church recoils much the same as Israel when special attention is paid. Closer scrutiny is applied to its actions and its people. A televangelist is caught laundering money and that's what makes the news instead of the soup kitchen. A Catholic priest is brought up on charges of molestation and that gets the front page while the homeless shelter gets two paragraphs on page C15. The wrongs, the sins, are amplified while acts of love are given little to no attention at all. We have made historical claims and presented theological definitions, and the rest of humanity is watching whether those claims and definitions are held up and when, why, and how they might be ignored or forgotten.

The church is given special attention because in a sense it demands special attention. That's as challenging as anything else.

Musical morning musings

Toad the Wet Sprocket's 'Pray Your Gods' is a melancholy way to start the day.

If that's not your thing, you could listen to The Doors' 'The End' or maybe Dylan's 'Most of the Time' or half of Pink Floyd's catalogue. All perfect for a cloudy rain-threatening morning where ya just don't feel like doing anything.

But then what you do is you pop on Arlo Guthrie's 'Alice's Restaurant' and think to yourself, ' could be worse. I could listen to this song again. I want my 18 minutes back.' Oh wait...that'll lead you back to 'Pray Your Gods.'

Ya can't win. Have some coffee, pull yourself out of your funk, and do something life-changing. And pop on something peppy while you do it. Try Phish or The Aquabats or Barenaked Ladies.

'You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant...'


The Christian Illogician

Hello. My beliefs seem illogical to you. I understand that. They seem illogical to many people. I'm a fool, you see. Many, even though they've never met me, think so. Even some who do know me think the same. Even some other Christians do. Weird, huh?

Yeah, I don't agree 100% with what some of my fellow Christians believe. I think they're wrong on some things, and they think I'm wrong on some things. We debate from time to time, and on most occasions we can still go out for coffee afterwards. Embarrassing, isn't it? How could I possibly expect you to follow Jesus when we're such messed up people ourselves? It only makes our beliefs seem that much more illogical, doesn't it?

Well, I can't talk long. I have to go have dinner. Hey, you know what? Why don't you come along? I'll buy. What? No, I insist. And that homeless man over there? Let's see if he's hungry as well. I bet he is. What's that? He might be an alcoholic? Well, alcoholics need to eat. Let's ask him. I know, I know, no chance of repayment. I'll probably never even see him again. Pretty illogical. But he needs to eat.

How do you know this isn't just grandstanding, you ask? Well, it's up to you. I can only tell you that I saw two hungry people and decided to buy them some food. From what I've read, Jesus did this sort of stuff a lot, even invited people society thought was worthless to dinner. Or so I read. Illogical, to be sure.

And how do you know this isn't a cheap trick to 'convert' you? Well, in a way it is. I want to convert you from cynicism to hope that Jesus, real or myth, has had a positive effect on people over the centuries and not everyone is using him to gain power. I want to convert you from seeking safety to taking a risk when you see a dirty hungry man picking through a garbage can. I want to convert you from hardness of heart to genuine compassion when you see such a person. I want to convert you from a narrow view of who your neighbor is to the broadest view possible. That all probably sounds illogical as well.

Well, your stomach's full, and that's the best proof I can provide that any of this matters. You can only take my word for it that I did it with any genuineness, but I assure you that I did. Maybe blind trust in others' assurance is illogical as well.

No, my holy book isn't perfect. My arguments are far from perfect. My fellow believers aren't perfect, nor is the institution that I attend on Sunday mornings. My knowledge of my own faith isn't perfect. It's all quite illogical and foolish.

Do and say what you will with your interaction with me today. I have no control over how you process it afterwards. It's pretty illogical for me to expect any one outcome.

Sorry I couldn't have been more help to you. But I'm glad we were able to share table together. No repayment is necessary. That's the point.

Illogical, I know. I can't tell you. I can only show you. Sucks, doesn't it?

Changing of the seasons

For the past seven years, fall has been my favorite time of the year. I associate with the cool air, the crackle of leaves underfoot, pumpkins, the smell of autumn know the smell. For me, the past seven years have also associated fall with the beginning of a new academic year of college or seminary. There was something special about a new year of higher education for me. Not high school or lower, though. Summer was THE season then. No question.

So here I am at the beginning of spring wondering if a new favorite is emerging, or re-emerging, for reasons similar to what I associated with fall. Summer was the beginning of my first full-time ministry opportunity last June as I served at my home church. Sunny mornings spent in the church office yakking with whomever happened to wander in, humid afternoons spent visiting shut-ins and the hospitalized, and cool evenings watching an orange sun disappear over the trees while sitting out reading the book of the week. It was a good time, a special time, once again a time of new beginnings, a season marking a new chapter.

It's getting sunny and warm again. As of this typing the sun's turning orange and beginning to hide behind the brush. And ministry, always ministry.

Seasons change, and favorite seasons change, ever bringing new beginnings, ever marking new chapters.

Except winter. Winter's just freaking cold.

Il Papa es Morte.

'To save means to liberate from evil. This does not refer only to social evils, such as injustice, coercion, exploitation. Nor does it refer only to disease, catastrophes, natural cataclysms, and everything that has been considered disaster in the history of humanity.

'To save means to liberate from radical, ultimate evil. Death itself is no longer that kind of evil, if followed by the Resurrection. And the Resurrection comes about through the work of Christ. Through the work of the Redeemer death ceases to be an ultimate evil; it becomes subject to the power of life.

'The world does not have such power. The world, which is capable of perfecting therapeutic techniques in various fields, does not have the power to liberate man from death. And therefore the world cannot be a source of salvation for man. Only God saves, and He saves the whole of humanity in Christ.'

Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope
Happy Saturday.

I'm still working through From Beirut to Jerusalem. I just finished the Beirut section and have read the first chapter of Jerusalem, which focuses heavily on the victim mindset that Israel has attempted to maintain. Naturally there's also discussion on U.N. Resolution 242 and the Six-Day War victory. While this book has been very interesting, I've added a second in order to break it up a little: The Barbarian Way: Unleash the Untamed Faith Within by Erwin Raphael McManus. Here are the first two sentences from the back cover: 'Two thousand years later the call to follow Christ has been repackaged to be smooth and trouble-free, filled with opportunity and promise but lacking risk, passion, and sacrifice. Is this really what Jesus died for?' That caught my attention, as I've been wrestling with similar questions of late.

This week has been heavy on Jack Johnson, a singer/songwriter/acoustic player from Hawaii. He's rock with a blues edge, which is what I've been digging lately.

This week I watched I (Heart) Huckabees, which I found to be quirky and fun. An environmentalist approaches two 'existentialist detectives' to help him figure out the meaning of life. Lots of fun discussion about What It All Means with a really good cast: Dustin Hoffman, Mark Wahlberg, Lilly Tomlin, and Jude Law. If you don't have a passing familiarity with existentialist thought you might feel a little lost, though.

The second episode of The Office was painful to sit through. I didn't finish it. But I won't give up on it yet.

Around the web, check out the Star Wars: Episode III trailer.

Enjoy. Have a good week.

'Where I'm At Sunday'

Look for this article eventually on the Christian Century website, but it was so good that I'm going to type it out for you to read. At first read I laughed, at second read I said, 'Hey, wait a minute...' and at third read I chuckled. Enjoy.

'Where I'm At Sunday' by Lillian Daniel (a UCC pastor in Illinois)

Treasuring the freedom that allows us to honor our unique traditions and keep up with the times, we propose these special Sundays in the church year and offer accompanying liturgical resources:

Where I'm At Sunday, May 8 (formerly Confirmation Sunday) - The youth of the church will reflect upon the hypocrisy of organized religion. They will show no interest in the Christian faith, but they will be invited to share their feelings and subsequently be received into full membership.

Denominational Apology Sunday, May 15 (formerly Pentecost) - Time will be reserved for the denomination to apologize for one or more of the following: a) historical wrongs; b) hurt feelings; c) stands taken which may turn out to be wrong; d) stands now believed to be wrong which may turn out to be right.

Bad Preaching Sunday, June 5 - Pastors will swap pulpits and preach extremely poor sermons at one another's churches, thus increasing each congregations esteem for its own pastor. (Note: The official name of this Sunday is not to be shared with the congregations.)

Festival of the Christian Garage, June 19 (formerly Father's Day) - An opportunity to decorate the sanctuary creatively with symbols such as beer cans and copies of TV Guide. The preacher may open worship with words such as 'Can you keep it down? I'm trying to watch the game in here' and then proceed to ignore the congregation for the next hour.

Large Chruch Pastor Sunday, August 7 - On this day the denomination prays for the special needs of large churches, which must recruit top-flight associates and well-paid staff, manage large endowments and feel underappreciated and misunderstood by pastors of smaller churches.

Small Church Pastor Sunday, September 18 - The beauties of small church ministry will be celebrated, followed by an all-church potluck dinner. Those whose last name starts with A-G should bring cupcakes; H-M, green bean casserole; N-P, Baked beans; O-Z, ham with pineapple. Recipes will be posted. Please call the church office if you have allergies or questions.

Human Sexuality Sunday, Date, subject and content, TBA

Cute Things Kids Say About God Sunday, January 30; February 13, 20; March 27 (formerly Easter); May 22 (formerly Trinity Sunday); June 19; Septermber 4, 11, 18; October 2; December 18 and December 24 (formerly Christmas Eve.) - On these popular Sundays, pastors should quote heavily from stories making the rounds on the Internet, which the congregation will enjoy hearing again. Stories need not have a point as long as they are cute. Don't overlook stories about your own children, wihch are a source of delight to others.

Not in My Backyard Sunday, November 13 - Bulletin inserts will make it clear that life-changing mission work takes place overseas, where the people are really grateful. Church members who have taken mission trips abroad will wear ponchos and speak on how they recieved even more than they gave. Youth will feel a call to ministry, which should dissipate by the fourth hymn. Local poverty within driving distance of the church, drug-related crime and union organizing drives are not to be mentioned.

Jesus, My Buddy, Sunday, November 20 (formerly Christ the King Sunday) - Images will be chosen to emphasize the ordinariness of Jesus and to boost members' self-esteem. As a pastoral servce, members will be given the opportunity to unpack their lingering feelings of inadequacy resulting from previous presentations of a transcendent ruler God. This service should offer the comforting message that God is really no better than we are.

Hymnal Desensitization Sunday, November 27 (formerly First Sunday of Advent) - Congregations that have recently purchased new denominational hymnals will sing from the old hymnal while receiving painful electric shocks. If militaristic hymns are included, wattage should be increased.