Wednesday, August 31, 2005
While perusing my usual cyberhaunts this morning, I came across a suggestion that Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans was our Sodom and Gomorrah. New Orleans is one of our more notorious U.S. cities due to its yearly celebration of Mardi Gras. Sodom and Gomorrah being notorious Biblical cities that were destroyed for their wickedness, I can see how some attempting to explain such a massive tragedy would resort to this comparison in order to satisfy one's own theological dilemma. Someone feels the need to say something similar whenever an event of such proportions causes injury and death. We heard it after the tsunami in December. We heard it after 9/11. We hear it about AIDS and homosexuals. We hear it about earthquakes in California. This explanation makes some people feel better about their God, and maybe even about themselves. After all, the tragedy didn't happen near them. Something like this only happens in areas where there are higher concentrations of sinners.
Let's face it. We don't really know. In moments like this, the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah are dusted off (along with other tales from the Old Testament where cities are smitten...smote...whatever) in order to show that this must have been God's punishment for especially evil parts of the world. On the other hand, Jesus offers no explanation in the above passage for why the tower fell on those Galileans. God calls Job's friends clueless when they try to explain Job's incredible misfortune. Unfortunately for some, admitting to cluelessness isn't satisfactory either. So we turn to how many instances of debauchery and carousing, how many feminists and homosexuals, were present at the time and blame that instead. When others question the crassness of it all, the answer is typically, 'God's ways are not our ways.'
Theodicy is the trickiest issue in theology. I'm willing to bet that a substantial amount of atheists have become so because of theodicy-related issues. The logic of it all doesn't square with a loving God. And if God is loving, why didn't God stop it?
I think it drives more people--believer and unbeliever alike--crazy enough to avoid it completely, rather than mumble a pithy 'not our ways...' variation, or declare an area like New Orleans a Biohazardous Wickedness Zone. I'm with Jesus on this one. It's easier to say what a tragedy isn't than to say what it is. At least that way we have a better chance of saying what it is.
Monday, August 29, 2005
And since she's starting, that means that my own alma mater is gearing up for another year as well. I know at least one person in the incoming class, so here's hoping that she and the rest of the new students (I always called them noobs when I was there) find a comfortable rhythm in studies and just as importantly, NOT studying.
I've mentioned before that the fall used to be the premier season for me. It still mostly is, though my main reason no longer applies. I used to love fall because it meant the start of the school year. I only have reunions and class listserves to keep me connected now. Well...I live close enough to my high school to hang around if I want, but seriously...when I was IN high school and saw recent (and not so recent) graduates hanging around for no other reason than they were still stuck in town, I prayed that I would never be That Guy. I've only been That Guy once. It was a year ago this week when I still lived in St. Louis and had nothing better to do than tell horror stories to the noobs. The light bulb went off and I realized that I was That Guy. It provided great motivation to find a church.
So once again, here's to high schoolers, those in college, and to the noobs. As the leaves turn and the autumnal smell touches your nose (you know the one), concentrate and do your best.
And then find a job and leave town as quickly as possible.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
We're gearing up for high school football 'round these parts which, in middle America, is sometimes more a religion than something something guy on a cross. Yesterday's newspaper had a special section devoted to area teams, projected standings, returning starters, and full-page photos of kids pre-Nike endorsements. The church I serve draws from four school districts. I have yet to experience how it gets handled.
So this week Pat Robertson opened his mouth and said something stupid, denied that he said something stupid, and later apologized for saying something stupid. Evangelical Republicanism is big on personal accountability, but some are really slow to self-application.
You know how denominations such as the UCC, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, etc. are referred to as 'mainline'? Well, 'mainline' is a railroad term. I was recently told that churches were deemed 'mainline' because people took the train into Philadelphia to attend services. Has anyone else ever heard this? I've looked up a few sites and the railroad reference is there, but how it got attached to church life is not mentioned.
It's Thursday already. What happened to Monday?
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
I hope UCC splits up and ceases to exist as a denomination.
I hope the same for MCC, because I disagree with some of the things they did.
I hope the diagreements that are going on with the Episcopal Church/Church of England dooms it to failure too.
In fact, I hope all the denominations fail, and all the churches descend into chaos. It would serve them right, because they're all wrong in some way.
Then, when we're done breaking the ties that bind our churches to each other, maybe we can focus on breaking up our own churches over differences in doctrine, liturgy, and coffee hour.
When we've completely disassociated from each other, we will finally all be free. Each one of us can be right, worshipping alone.
I wonder which one of us will end up being the one who is saved.
Monday, August 22, 2005
Sunday, August 21, 2005
Saturday, August 20, 2005
If you are having an extramarital affair, Secret Lover cards can make it an affair to remember.
Gallagher hit upon the idea a couple of years ago. Like most couples, she and her husband had friends whose marriages had been affected by extramarital affairs, with all their attendant “conflict and emotional intensity,” she said in an interview.
The Secret Lover Collection debuted to enormous curiosity at a national trade show this year. The Greeting Card Association says there’s nothing else like it.
“I’m thinking, ‘So how do these people communicate? It’s a secret love affair,’” Gallagher said. “So I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, what better can you do than give someone your sentiments in a greeting card? How special is that?’”
After two years of market research revealed an unfilled need, she said, the cards debuted to enormous curiosity this year at the annual National Stationery Show in New York.
Barbara Miller, a spokeswoman for the Greeting Card Association, a national trade group, confirmed that the collection was, indeed, unique.
“Ms. Gallagher thought she saw a specific niche there, and she’s going after that particular niche,” Miller said. “Whether or not it proves successful I guess we’ll all have to wait and see. ... It’s obviously a business decision on her end.”
Yep. It's a business decision. It's a business decision to capitalize on violation of marriage vows. How special is that? What better way for unfaithful people to express their lust for one another than by sending a cute little poem? I feel warm and fuzzy just thinking about it.
We watched Sin City the other night. I'm a fan of the film noir style, so I figured that I'd enjoy this. By the middle of the second or third vignette, I was hoping for the end. I can't totally explain why, but I had a hard time finding any redeeming value in this film. Eventually I figured that it could be a launching pad for a discussion on human depravity. I guess that'll work. The film is less violent than some I've seen, but even so, that's what I grew tired of the most. All the same, the cast list is amazing. There are a lot of recognizable faces in this film, beyond who is used to advertise it.
This week I've been listening to The Wiseguys' The Antidote and Zero7's Simple Things. I've been in a more electronic mood, I guess. Play the former at a party you want to keep moving. Play the latter when you want to relax.
Last night I enjoyed a glass of Stephen Vincent cabernet sauvignon. While looking up a website to which I could direct you--the winery, perhaps--I came across Vinography. It's a blog all about wine, and the author has sampled Stephen Vincent. Two in one.
Friday, August 19, 2005
For months I'd also been considering the pros and cons of going Fair Trade. This was before the Synod resolution, but the resolution certainly helped in its own right. Would it be worth the extra money? Was this a justice issue in which I could literally afford to get involved? After all, consider this: a larger can of Maxwell House or Folgers where I live costs between $4.00 and $6.00, and it lasts me a good month or so. Hold that thought.
For the first time, I traveled to the local organic market. Well, it's not that local for me. I actually have to drive 15 minutes. But I'd been meaning to check it out for a while, so I entered under a well-informed assumption that this place would have fair trade coffee. Sure enough, two shelves displayed coffee from Equal Exchange, along with 20 different kinds of coffee, all marked fair trade, that you could grind yourself. Remember the amount and price of the Maxwell House? A bag of one of these brands would run between $8 and $10. That's more money for less coffee.
By this point you might be wondering whether I'm really trying to sway you to switch to fair trade. Cost is the bottom line for a lot of people on this issue. I've heard a few people say that if it wasn't more expensive, they'd switch. If only that line really worked for smokers or alcoholics. I'm being flippant, and I need to get to the punchline.
I've been drinking fair trade coffee for about a month now. The other week, I ran out and couldn't get more until later in the day. I remembered that there was part of a can of Maxwell House still sitting over at the church, so I walked the 100 feet or so to get the can, made a pot, took a sip...and wondered how the heck I'd been able to put up with this taste for so long. That morning, I discovered that the fair trade coffee had spoiled me. After a month of enjoying a smoother richer taste, it took one return to a more bitter blend to tell me exactly why it was worth the extra money. Helping farmers get a fair shake tastes better, too.
I guess that this makes me a coffee snob. If I have to suffer a few 'snob' accusations for drinking better tasting coffee and helping people at the same time, I can live with that.
Monday, August 15, 2005
Here's a brief discussion of the second assertion. an excerpt:
Dr. M. claimed that the wine used for the Passover seder was actually grape juice, not the fermented stuff at all. "Welch's makes grape juice--the Israelites made grape juice." (He actually said that.) "The Jews could eat only the unleavened bread, and it would have been inconsistent for them to indulge in drink containing leavening," i.e., the yeast-leavened wine. Nope. That was grape juice. Not wine.
While it may be like shooting fish in a barrel to argue against ("Welch's makes grape juice--the Israelites made grape juice"), the larger point is that in certain cases when it comes to modern practices with the potential to be destructive (which sex and alcohol certainly do) there has risen this extreme avoidance movement that says that any partaking at all is sinful. We inherit part of it from our Puritan roots when a woman showing her ankle was scandalous. Anything with even the possibilitiy of 'being a stumbling block' was threatening to one's purity.
Sex not to be enjoyed? Read Song of Solomon. Alcohol not to be imbibed? Psalm 104 celebrates God's gift of wine to gladden the human heart. I'm having a harder time thinking of an acceptance of dancing. I'm a crappy dancer, so I'm not looking too hard for that one.
Now, there is healthy partaking and unhealthy partaking. There is pleasure and there are truly stumbling blocks. A glass or two of cabernet with dinner is different than an all-night bender. Pleasure with someone you truly love and to whom you are truly committed is different than an emotionless one-nighter. Dancing...I got nothing. Similarly, setting a beer or a Playboy in front of an addict (and we can even speak of Playboy as destructive in and of itself) is a stumbling block.
What I'm really questioning here, though, is the extremism that dictates that there is no joy to be found in these things. Christians cannot and should not enjoy sex, even with their spouse. It is for baby-making and nothing more. Christians cannot and should not drink. It is for the godless heathen bar scene only. Christians cannot and should not dance...I'm still not coming up with anything here. Why'd I include this?
There is such a strong reaction to any and all pleasure in some parts of the Christian community that any sort of endorfin release means that one is turning his/her heart away from Jesus. This is the same Jesus who went to parties all the time, who even spoke of the kingdom of God as a great feast. Hanging onto one's purity of heart has become for some a white-knuckle grip. Any loosening up and you're on the fast track to sitting on a hot coal.
I was going to get into the balance that should be struck between enjoying life and our responsibility as disciples, but that's not really the point of this entry. The point is coming back from the extreme for there to be any hope of balance in the first place. So I'll leave it at that.
Saturday, August 13, 2005
We bought the Back to the Future trilogy the other day and watched them all in a 24-hour period. I can't get enough of these movies. They're just enjoyable. I commented to my wife, 'For all of Doc's talk about not knowing too much about your own future, he ends up knowing a lot.' While I was drifting off to sleep last night, I was thinking about Marty's fight with Mad Dog Tannen. Couldn't he have seriously altered history by getting Tannen arrested? This is why I'm content to think as little as possible when watching time travel movies. My wife and I had a huge argument after we watched The Jacket last week, and if you need the basic fodder for it, watch BTTF Part II where Doc is explaining that the three of them are in an 'alternate 1985' rather than the real 1985. So does that mean that the real 1985 still exists somewhere? And with the new 1985, how does that affect their trip to 2015; Biff's stealing of the time machine to take the book back in the first place? Maybe Doc would tell me that I'm not thinking Fourth Dimensionally. Maybe that's a plot hole in the movie that I'd be better served to ignore. Anyway, I like these movies.
This won't be a proper music selection, but it is a CD selection. The comedian Mitch Hedberg recently died, and he was hilarious. A brief sampling:
- "I don't have a girlfriend. But I do know a woman who'd be mad at me for saying that."
- "I tried walking into a Target , but I missed."
- "I haven't slept for ten days, because that would be too long."
- "I wrote a letter to my dad- I wrote, I really enjoy being here. But I accidently wrote rarely, instead of really. But I still wanted to use it, so I wrote I rarely drive steamboats, Dad. There's a lot you don't know about me. Quit trying to act like I'm a steamboat operator. This letter took a harsh turn right away."
- "And then at the end of the letter i like to write P.S.- This is what part of the alphabet would look like if Q and R were eliminated."
Around the web, Real Live Preacher changed locations.
Friday, August 12, 2005
I did housekeeping for a conservative Jewish family while I was in seminary. They kept kosher and were shomer shabbos. I was expected to, to the best of my ability, keep Torah in their home as well. I began to realize that this was not a burden, and that it did in fact lead to something close to mindfulness. Every moment of their day, every decision however basic, was a religious act. What they wore, what they ate, how they ate it, all were expressions of their faith. Unlike a good many Christians, they didn't and couldn't take their faith out and wear it one day a week. It was the essence of their life. On my first day of work, the woman I worked for went through the basics of kashruth, much of which I knew from my study of scripture. She showed me the things I needed to know--which were meat dishes, which for milk, etc. I was carefullly taking all of this in, worrying that I might make a mistake, when she said something of extreme importance: "But if you make a mistake, don't let it bother you. We do these things because we love God, not because we're afraid of going to hell. In fact, we don't believe in hell."
While in college, I interacted with many Christians for whom hell was a primary motivator, particularly when sharing their faith with others. If 'God loves you' wasn't enough to reel someone in to Christianity, perhaps fear of hell might.
The notion that one helps the poor, goes to church, practices the various spiritual disciplines, prays, or participates in any other aspect of Christian life because one loves God and wishes to follow Jesus to the best of one's ability is the true heart of discipleship. Fear of punishment, while in some cases effective, is not what Jesus was about. It's about who we are called to be rather than who we're not called to be.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
The Mystical Communion Model 'includes both People of God and Body of Christ.' The statement is not very descriptive at first glance. How detailed can any of these blurbs get? But if one considers why one might have to use both phrases intentionally is to suggest that there is some difference, and to use the word 'both' is to say that one doesn't necessarily include the other, or mean the other. My take is that 'People of God' is more an earthy term, a 'real life' term. Calvin differentiates between the Visible and Invisible Church, and perhaps saying People of God is to speak of the Visible. The church is made up of real people, flesh and blood, created by God. It is a real gathering of believers. Body of Christ, then, would be the Invisible, the mystical, the intangible bond that we have with one another and with Christ.
'The church is essentially people in union with Christ and the Father through the Holy Spirit.' Hey, did I call that or what? I have a slightly different take on the Trinity than what is offered here, but this line speaks of our unity with Christ. I have my first baptism this Sunday, and I'm preaching on this very theme. We are united in baptism with Christ and with one another...and then I slip in that while we are united, we are not uniform.
'Both lay people and clergy are drawn together in a family of faith.' The questions that were asked on the quiz about the office and role of pastor were generally answered with a low view. Who am I to claim ultimate authority or that I keep God's Word in a box on my desk to be dispensed like candy? I don't see myself that way. Instead, I see myself as a fellow pilgrim, called to guide others yet fully aware that I need guidance myself.
I'm glad that this model can be supplemented with other models. The Sacrament model has an element of transformation to it, which I appreciate. The Servant model is the one of which I am particularly fond for its emphasis on mission (that's a guess; I've not seen the description). A large part of one's communion with Christ is communion with others. Jesus placed the two greatest commandments together for a reason.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Last night I attended a regional dinner for the Association to say thank you for churches' contributions to Our Church's Wider Mission, the offering that funds the UCC in its other settings. A table had been set up with various brochures, stickers, magnets, and so on. In addition, a video of various UCC-related mission work played. At one point, the bouncer ad came on. As the commercial went through its routine, I began to notice how quiet the room had become. A large chunk of the people present had stopped to watch. Whether one had stopped for a moment of reverence or private disgust, it had an effect on the crowd. It's like we all stopped to watch the elephant eat his hay before returning to our own conversations.
Monday, August 08, 2005
|You scored as Mystical Communion Model. Your model of the church is Mystical Communion, which includes both People of God and Body of Christ. The church is essentially people in union with Christ and the Father through the Holy Spirit. Both lay people and clergy are drawn together in a family of faith. This model can exalt the church beyond what is appropriate, but can be supplemented with other models.|
What is your model of the church? [Dulles]
created with QuizFarm.com
Thanks to Greg for this one.
I'm generally in agreement with the little analytical blurb, but take solace in the Servant Model scoring so high as well. Exalting the church too much? Me? Huh...
Saturday, August 06, 2005
The other night we watched The Jacket. Adrien Brody plays a guy who barely survived Desert Storm. He comes home with a bad case of Gulf War Syndrome. Before he knows it, he's wrongly accused of killing a policeman and is sent to a mental facility where Kris Kristofferson thinks putting him in an all-body straightjacket and shoving him in a mortuary drawer for hours at a time will make him better. While in the drawer, he has visions that help him help others. It was a good film.
I've been listening to a lot of Tenacious D recently. I don't have the album and I don't know why.
In a rare occurrance, I have a TV recommendation. I've become addicted to the show Entourage on HBO. It's about four childhood friends from New York who move to Hollywood. One's an actor with a rising star and the other three make themselves busy as manager, gopher, and personal trainer. Jeremy Piven (a favorite of mine and the reason I started paying attention to the show to begin with) is his fast-talking agent and plays the role perfectly.
Around the web, check out Brian McLaren, emergesque, and The Dying Church, all newly added to the blog list.
Friday, August 05, 2005
And when you ask me if I believe in it, or maybe I just say that I do without your asking.
Yes, I believe there is such a thing as hell.
The look on your face makes me want to take it back, but I don't think you will believe me if I do. 'That's horrible,' you say.
It's all horrible, I say. It's so horrible that you might wish for a hell even if there wasn't one. I read an article the other day about the world trade in prostitutes. Young girls kidnapped from their villages or on their way to what they have been told are jobs in other villages. Gang-raped on videotape. Their captors threaten to send copies to their parents if they don't cooperate. They live under constant threat of violence, in constant risk of disease. They live in 'permanent gynecological pain.'
So let us say there is no hell. But what if there is a life beyond this one? What kind would you like? The sex slaves meet up with their masters on the shores of eternity. 'So, like, what was that back there all about?' They reach the conclusion that it was a learning experience. Side by side they swim toward the Big Light. Pimps 'n' ho's. The girls get to wear designer bikinis. A consolation for all they've been through.
For a long while, I was very comfortable with universalism, the notion that whatever sort of paradise exists, we all get there. In many ways I still am. I've long held the view that hell is our own choice--through one avenue or another we have rejected God's presence, the result being a dark, tormenting place that is ultimately self-tormenting. Outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth, if you will. For me it is not a place to which God enjoys sending people. It's not the product of an unloving or a vengeful Creator. It's a place to which we send ourselves when we do not take adequate stock of the larger world around us and focus only on ourselves. One rejects God's presence and will and thus at least begins eternity knowing what that's like.
Now, 'orthodox' might state that that's not harsh enough while 'liberals' might say that's already too harsh. God is a God of grace after all. I don't deny that. How could I, both from a scriptural perspective as well as an experiential perspective? But what does grace mean to the pimps mentioned above? To figures such as Hitler? I have no doubt that God loves them and is gracious to them. But the moment they die, does God simply say, 'Well, that went terribly wrong. Hopefully you do better up here.' Does God approach 13,000,000 murdered souls and say, 'Hey everyone. This is Adolf. It was all just a big misunderstanding'?
I am more inclined to believe nowadays that one gnashes one's teeth while slowly discovering the real consequences of radical self-interest and a rejection of others' needs. As Keizer states, hell is 'the sting of neglecting to help create a more just world' (paraphrased). God is Father and Mother, and God is a responsible Father and Mother, disciplining and helping God's children to be better people rather than let them run free, watch them get into trouble, and then buy them candy hoping they'll do better tomorrow. In the first scenario, God cares. In the second, God doesn't.
Ultimately, this is God's concern (praise be, halleuljah) and I am but one grain of sand of a blogger. However, I can no longer conceive of an afterlife where radical grace without transformation is the rule.
Thursday, August 04, 2005
Starting Aug. 3, the 4,300-member Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, Texas, will begin a five-week series of church-wide conversations about affiliating with the 1.3-million-member United Church of Christ.
If such a move were to transpire, the Cathedral of Hope would become the UCC’s third largest congregation.“We’ve been taking a look at this for a number of years,” says Dennis Bolin, a 10-year member of the church and chair of its Affiliation and Expansion Committee.
The 35-year-old Cathedral of Hope, which until 2002 was affiliated with the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, is considered to be the largest church in the world with a primary outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. In more recent years, however, the congregation has attracted many non-LGBT members. It also has a satellite congregation, with a full-time pastor, in Oklahoma City.
Also from UCC News:
Citing dissatisfaction with General Synod’s July 4 adoption of a resolution in support of same-gender marriage equality, three congregations voted in late July to leave the denomination.
On July 24, the 49-member Center Congregational UCC in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood voted to withdraw from the UCC’s Southeast Conference.
Likewise, on July 31, the 470-member Shiloh UCC in Faith, N.C. voted 189 to 9 to sever its ties to the Southern Conference. On the same day, in Evansville, Ind., the 400-member Salem-Darmstadt UCC also voted to leave the Indiana-Kentucky Conference.
I suppose one answer to the question in the title would be, 'It's been happening for years.' More 'conservative' churches are leaving and more 'progressive' churches are moving in. For a long while, I chose to reject the 'liberal' label that people attached to the denomination, citing polity. 'We' are not 'liberal,' those at the national setting are 'liberal.' The UCC has a large 'conservative' base who either don't acknowledge many Synod resolutions (well within their right under polity), make statements against Synod resolutions (also well within their right) or disaffiliate as was the case with the three churches above.
Nevertheless, the shift is becoming harder to mistake. That base is slowly eroding while churches like Cathedral of Hope come in. I have nothing against Cathedral of Hope and would gladly welcome them if they decided to join officially. With the establishment of 97 new churches in the past two years, what with their voluntary identification as UCC, I'm willing to bet that they might be more in line with resolutions that have been passed by Synods.
All of this is to say that I think it is becoming more proper to say that the UCC is a 'liberal' denomination. Maybe I'm late in recognizing that or giving in to that, but I wonder how many more will join the three departed churches and who will come with Cathedral of Hope.
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Monday, August 01, 2005
I've also added a new feature to the sidebar entitled From the Archives. This feature highlights some past entries I'm particularly fond of and entries that I think capture what I and this blog are about. Enjoy.