Showing posts from September, 2005

Pop Culture Roundup

Reading Volf, as always. I just finished his chapter on justice and injustice, and he has some things to say about how we tend to think of the oppressed as innocent, even sinless, and the oppressors as absolute evil. He presents another view, that the oppressed are in need of repentence in their own way, and likewise the oppressors capable of good. This is in no way meant to gloss over oppression, only to caution against absolute lionization and demonization in such a situation. Scenarios and individuals are more complicated than that.

A friend of mine sent along a copy of The Decemberists for my listening pleasure. They're sort of a folk-rock-Irish jig hybrid. Think Rusted Root with a much less annoying lead singer, or 10,000 Maniacs with a male lead singer...except neither of those groups are adequate to really describe their sound.

We've gotten through the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and at this point in the show's run the stage was set for the Angel spinoff…

My Kind of Guy

From the October 4th issue of Christian Century:

When Chris Hedges was a teenager, he asked his father, a Presbyterian minister, what he said when he visited people who had recently lost a loved one. He thought surely his father would have some wisdom to dispense. "Mostly I make the coffee," his father responded. At the time, Hedges disdained this response, but now he honors it. "There is little to do in the face of death but make the coffee. We have no words to blunt its awfulness. It was his presence, more than anything he could say, that mattered."

World Communion Sunday

This coming Sunday is World Communion Sunday, when we celebrate communion with Christian brothers and sisters around the globe. The lectionary is being a little difficult.

Wedged in between two passages on vineyards is Philippians 3:4b-14, which I thought I'd be preaching on. Paul declares that 'Christ has made me his own.' 'Made me his own,' more appropriately, can be translated 'seized' or 'captured.' The KJV says 'apprehended.' For Paul, Christ initiated a new relationship, a new way of being for him. Paul didn't start it, Christ did. Chalk up a point for the Calvinists. Heh.

Anyway, how this can be related to World Communion is less clear. Certainly there are Christians around the world who have experienced such a conversion, Christ seizing them somehow, Christ compelling them in a non-exorcism sense to live in a new way. That can happen at the table as we fellowship with one another. Even moreso, it can happen as we parta…

Which Saint Are You?

Credit to

You are Saint Francis of Assisi! You don't care
what you look like (or smell like) as long as
you can live simply and help the poor. You
should be receiving your stigmata any day now.

Which Saint Are You?
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'Forgive AND Forget?' - A Sermon for 9/25/05

Recreated from my outline...

Matthew 18:21-35

Forgiveness is one of those Christian virtues most revered. It is a hallmark; a staple of Christian life. It is one of the things Jesus is known for, and one of the things that got him in trouble with religious leaders. Forgiveness of sins is only something God can do, after all. And on the Sabbath! For shame.

As such, the church has always lifted up forgiveness as one of those actions we most treasure and are most called to show others. It’s a wonderful concept; an honorable act. But how easy is it?

Peter seemed to have some notion of the difficulty to forgive. His question tries to quantify forgiveness. He tries to set a limit, a minimum requirement. When is enough forgiveness truly enough? He probably thought he was being generous by suggesting seven. It’s the perfect number, after all. Surely, seven would be enough.

‘Not seven, but seventy-seven (or seventy times seven).’ Jesus implies that forgiveness is beyond quantification. You don’t st…

Jesus Isn't Cool

Yesterday, I cited an article from Christian Century on youth ministry. I read over it again after posting and found the message to be challenging even as it was talking about challenging youth ministry. Or something.

Anyway, a brief excerpt:

A few months ago a confirmation teacher asked to meet with me. "Can I talk to you about an issue we're having with one of our students?" Immediately I imagined a long list of possible teenage offenses. "Is the student disruptive?" I asked. "Well, sort of," she said. "The student keeps saying, 'This is too easy; it must be the easiest religion in the world.'" In light of that comment I had to wonder if the confirmation program was teaching Christianity or Moralistic Theraputic Deism.

Twice each year, I take two busloads of high school students on retreats at which they worship, walk labyrinths, talk in small groups with adults who care about them, and "hang out" in Christian community. Up…

Pop Culture Roundup

I'll be with Volf for a few more weeks. I've just now caught up with where the book discussion is, and I'm about to fall behind again. It's been a good read, although I admit that I haven't been playing close enough attention to parts of it. Chapter 5 deals with finding an objective approach to justice, and how ideas of justice are colored by culture, nationality, religion, and ethnicity. If we attempt to remain satisfied that each group has their own system that works for them, we quickly run into either 1) the hypocrisy of becoming appalled at one's execution of justice and deeming it wrong, or 2) indifference to violence that erupts between groups trying to assert their justice on the other. I gave up a while back on the argument that 'that's just their culture.' Volf cautions against it, to be sure. He also cautions against deeming one's own brand of justice as supreme as it is colored by one's own place in history.

We watched the …

Christian Spotted at University of Florida

From The Onion:

GAINESVILLE, FL–In an address before three fellow residents of Tenney Hall's fourth-floor west wing Tuesday, University of Florida sophomore Jeff Arnell, 18, issued a warning about the Christian in 462.

"If you see the guy who lives in the single down at the end of the hall, get away," Arnell told Troy Rasbach, Pete Marquez and Jonathan Wilkins, who had assembled in Arnell's room to watch SportsCenter. "He'll totally corner you and start telling you about Jesus."

According to Arnell, the Christian, Ocala, FL, elementary-education major Matthew Leske, not only attends church on a regular basis despite a lack of parental supervision at school, but also voluntarily goes to campus prayer meetings and other Christian youth-group functions.

Arnell said he first suspected his dormmate's faith in the Lord last Friday.

"I was punching in my door combo when he came up to me and asked me for help with his e-mail," Arnell said. "So…

No More Green!

The big block of Ordinary Time comes to an end after this Sunday, which means that the liturgical colors get changed for World Communion Sunday. A few more Sundays of green and we're to red on Reformation Sunday, white again on All Saint's, one more Sunday of green, white for Reign of Christ, and then to purple and Advent.

As if it were an added bonus, the trees are turning from green to yellow, orange, red, brown, even purple. Who knows if you'll need long sleeves or short sleeves, shorts or pants from day to day? We can look forward to pumpkins and cornucopias and fireplaces and costumes instead of sun, sun, some more sun, some sun, a little bit more sun, and some sun after that.

Most people like summer. If there isn't something special going on like a trip, I tend to get bored with it. When I was still in school it was a lot more exciting. Now all I hear and see is blah blah blahbitty blah. Some probably think me backwards for such an attitude, but I really a…

Community and Sub-Community

Greg, Dave, and Dave have been zeroing in on Saddleback Church's (Rick Warren's homebase) providing nine different 'styles' of worship services to appeal to people who find a particular style meaningful. The sentiment at two of these three places is that the specialization of services (taken to a more extreme degree than might be seen elsewhere due to size and resources) takes away from community by pulling people into so many separate services (we'll ignore that the church is so huge that intimacy in that community would be next to impossible to begin with). At the third place, the provision of options is defended because meaning is found by different people in different forms.

There's really something to both of these views, and I must say that as I consider this as a pastor of a smaller congregation, both views offer something to apply to smaller congregations. We use a more 'blended' style of worship, with praise choruses sung to guitar as well as hy…

Blue, Books, and Buffy

As I sip coffee from my mug with the wraparound picture of a bunch of maize-and-blue helmeted guys with 'Hail to the Victors' underneath, I anticipate my first trip to the Big House in Ann Arbor this weekend. It will also be the first road trip that my brother and I have ever taken together, family vacations excluded. When I first heard that I'd be going I thought, 'Wow, my first college football game,' and then I remembered that I went to a few Heidelberg games. Wow, my first Big 10 likely-to-be-sold-out-where-the-home-team-has-a-chance-at-winning football game.

I kid the 'Berg. They win sometimes. But mostly, they don't.

I also made my first trip to the UCC Resources warehouse yesterday to pick up Kerygma books for a study I'm leading this fall. I was originally going to go today, but my lunch meeting didn't last as long as I figured it would.

For someone like me, walking into that place was like walking into Willy Wonka's big chocolate …


~ The top team in the National League West has a losing record. The Padres aren't a dark horse to win the World Series, they're a three-legged blind horse.

~ Meanwhile, the Indians are sitting atop the Wild Card in the American League. This makes me happy for two reasons: We have a good chance of seeing Cleveland in the playoffs, and we have a good chance of seeing New York NOT in the playoffs. I just hope that Wedge's boys can keep it up.

~ There are more important things in life than complaining about Cleveland's team's nickname. My opinion.

~ For the first time in probably a decade or so, I bought baseball cards the other day. At the local fair they were selling early 90s packs for $.50 each. Some even had gum in them, which I did not chew. I got some decent names out of it, though they won't be worth anything for another 10-20 years.

~ I love fall.

A Feeling Faith

I was recently told a story of two pastors: a Baptist and a Presbyterian. Both were called to be with a community in mourning after a mine shaft collapsed, killing a group of beloved family members and friends. They both rushed to where the people were gathered and saught to console as best as they were able. The Presbyterian stood with people, seeking words to say, some sort of theological explanation for the tragedy according to the best in his tradition. The Baptist embraced one mourner after another and cried with them.

Was one pastor's approach right and the other's wrong? Not necessarily. But when it comes to matters of being present with those feeling a deep loss, seeking out the comfort and presence of God in life's disasters big and small, which might they be looking for? I recall the story of Lazarus from the Gospel of John where an emotional Jesus shares the grief of those around him. While he does share his own commentary on the situation, mostly about h…

Too Late...Or Is It?

The bulletin cover provided by UCC Resources for this morning features a full-page picture of Manhattan pre-9/11 with the words, 'How often should I forgive?' I found it very powerful the first time I saw it, and have thought about it from time to time all week.

Last night I woke myself up with an idea for a sermon illustration (stop looking at me so strangely, it's happened before): what pictures specific to our own lives could appear on that cover with the same question?

After I'd slept another few hours and had some coffee I realized that the lectionary text to which that would be relevant (Matthew 18:21-35) is being read this morning, and I'm not preaching. Curses!

Martin Luther's Visit to 20th Century America

Real Live Preacher is a truly brilliant writer.

Seize Every Opportunity

Bemoaning his workload, one of my seminary classmates wrote to our listserve: 'I have determined that pastors shouldn't get holidays.'

I responded: 'Oh yes they should.They should also be provided with a book containing all entertainment events small and large occurring within a 30-mile radius on any given day and a little He-Man action figure magically brought to life that hits you on the head with a small foam bat repeating, 'Go do something else. Go do something else. Go do something else...''

Meanderings on Robert Funk's Indirect Effect on My Life

Robert Funk, the founder of the controversial Jesus Seminar, died last Saturday, September 3rd. His obituary is here.

Honestly, I haven't read any of Funk's work. However, I am familiar with other members' writing. In particular, Steve Patterson was my New Testament professor at Eden, and I've read a few of Marcus Borg's works.

As a freshman religion major in college, the JS rubbed me the wrong way. I couldn't bring myself to whole-heartedly accept their theories even as I was just beginning to discover and become drawn to historical Jesus research. What was even more interesting was the attitude of those who did whole-heartedly accept them. I had a few arguments with JS literalists around that time. It was fascinating to hear people argue against literalism by saying, 'Well, I don't believe that because the Jesus Seminar says...'

All in all, I've always found the JS to be challenging and I'll always appreciate them for that. Nowadays I…

Pop Culture Roundup

Still working through Volf. That's nothing new. I'm still at a bit of a stalled point regarding non-theological books. I tried to start The Devil in the White City the other day. It's a piece of historical fiction about the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. I got past the prologue. That was two days ago. It's written in kind of a noir style, which I like, so I'm not going to give up on it yet.

No new movies watched this week, but I've done a bit of TV watching. First, the season finale of Entourage was this past week. This show has made a good replacement for me while I wait for The Sopranos to pick back up. Speaking of, HBO has a comparison of a typical day between Turtle and Paulie. Enjoy.

As if that wasn't enough, I can now say that I have seen the entire first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and soon I can say the same about the second. My wife has them on DVD. We spent a good chunk of last Sunday watching one after another. I enjoy the…

View Results for: Sodom, New Orleans, Katrina

I've had quite a few visitors here the past week and a half looking for connections made between Sodom and New Orleans. I guess they mostly don't find what they're looking for because their visit length is marked as '0,' which means they were here less than 5 seconds.

Good. I am pleased, no, ecstatic, that you are disappointed that you can't soak in another theory that God punished New Orleans. Go elsewhere to find sanctimonious pet theories on how 'those people' are more sinful than you are, more deserving of homelessness and illness, better targets for God's wrath. Go elsewhere to find writers who are 'just preaching the word of God' and 'speaking the truth in love' and whatever other sort of pious cliches they use to try to make it seem like they aren't responsible for the words they say.

I dare you to go look one of those victims in the eye and tell them to his or her face that the reason that they have no home or food, the rea…


She said, 'The Bible condemns perversion.'

I said, 'I agree.'

I knew what she meant, but I meant something else. I never got the chance to clarify.

Post-Labor Day Labor

It's a short week this week thanks to yesterday's holiday. What makes the week even shorter is not having to preach on Sunday. Usually, despite them being my 'days off,' you'll still find me at the church on Friday and Saturday fine-tuning my sermon. This week and next week are both a little different. This week we host a neutral pulpit for a fellow UCC congregation. Next week is Youth Sunday, with recent graduates sharing sermon duties.

What does a pastor do with all his free time? He schedules a bunch of extra visits. He even gets ambitious and starts thinking about his September 25 sermon and beyond. He might even start planning Advent (maybe that's too ambitious). He attends a few Association-sponsored events like installations and open houses for the new Association Minister-Nominate.

I attended such an installation this past Sunday at one of our closest neighbors. A younger pastor with a United Methodist background was installed in the next town o…

Bumper Sticker Theology

I recently stuck a United Church of Christ bumper sticker on my car. Instead of a Still Speaking sticker, I opted for an older one that reads, 'To Believe is to Care, To Care is to Do.' While I generally like the Still Speaking initiative, I wanted something that felt more 'long term,' for lack of a better description. It would identify me with the UCC rather than a particular movement within the UCC.

Anyway, I went to the grocery store today to pick up a few things. The particular store I regular provides a service where you can have your groceries put in tubs and sent out on a conveyor belt. You're given a tablet with a number that corresponds with the number on the tub. You then drive around to a bay, hand the tablets to the worker, and get your groceries placed in your car. It's like coat check for your cereal and Gatorade.

I pulled up and handed the worker my tablets, requesting that my bags be placed in the front passenger seat. She began putting th…

Rev. John Thomas' prayer for hurricane victims

Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.

- Be present, O God, with those who are discovering that loved ones have died, that homes and jobs are gone. Embrace them in your everlasting arms.

- Be present, O God, with those who suffer today in shelters, hot and weary from too little sleep and too much fear. Let them know they are not alone.

- Be present, O God, with those who wonder what they will find when they return to homes battered by wind and engulfed by flood. Teach them to hope.

- Be present, O God, with those who have not been able to reach loved ones, who are frantic with worry. Offer them consolation.

- Be present, O God, with those who have hardly recovered from last year’s storms, who are unsure how much they can bear, who yearn only for quiet. Grant them peace.

- Be present, O God, with all who respond - mayors, police, firefighters, FEMA employees, Red Cross workers, pastors, church disaster response coordinators. Th…

Pop Culture Roundup

I missed this last week, didn't I? Ah well...

I'm still working through Volf's Exclusion and Embrace, and I will be for a while. My online discussion group reads a chapter a week. Plus it's kind of dense anyway. I'm between 'fun' reading at the moment, but am leaning toward the 6th Harry Potter or The Color Purple. I already know The Big Event in Harry Potter, but I enjoy the books.

I have to make up for lost time with summarizing recent movie-watching. The past two weeks we've seen Constantine (typical Speed/Neo/Ted Theodore Logan performance from Keanu, interesting artistic rendering of hell), The Grudge (was praying for it to end, much less creepy than The Ring, annoying sound made by Scary Girl, in general...dumb), both Ghostbusters (comedy classics...well, the first one anyway. The second was okay) and Eurotrip (teen comedy set in Europe...lowbrow, but some bits are much more clever than most in its genre).

This morning I popped in a CD on which I'…

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