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 (Angel is Buffy's ex-boyfriend, who also happens to be a vampire with a soul...fun, huh?). Season three of Buffy was pretty good, with the mayor as the main foil. He was played so well as an evil guy with a nice streak ("I know what'll make you feel better...two words...miniature golf"). One might even try applying Volf's comments about oppressed and oppressor to him and see what happens.

Around the web, check out Vulgar Homiletics. It's not how it sounds.

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 partake with brothers and sisters from around the world. We partake with a Mexican Christian from the Texas border, view her wooden shack, and are seized to support her. An Israeli Christian and a Palestinian Christian turn to one another and are seized to work together for peace. An inner city St. Louisian partakes with a suburbanite from Beverly Hills and the two are seized to new relationship to understand, appreciate, and love one another. Christ seizes us to make the goal our own, to follow him, to take part in the great drama of human existence and seek the kingdom in corners of the world strange and different from our own.

All right, something's percolating now.

Which Saint Are You?

Credit to Sarahlaughed.net:

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?
brought to you by Quizilla

'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 stop at seven, if it still hasn’t ‘taken.’ It’s something that cannot be measured. That’s part of the scandal and the difficulty. Jesus’ answer to Peter is, for all intents and purposes, ‘As much or as long as it takes.’

There’s more to the scandal. Fast forward to Jesus’ parable of the servant in debt. This servant owes his master 10,000 talents. To give you an idea of what this means, one talent was equivalent to about 15 years’ wages for the average day laborer. 10,000 talents is ridiculously impossible for someone to pay off. The servant won’t be able to do it. But the sheer vastness of the debt is important to the story. Jesus has just made a statement about an infinite amount of forgiveness and now he is telling a story about an infinite amount of debt.

There really are multiple points of scandal in this story: the amount owed, the master actually forgiving such an outrageous amount, the treating of the other servant, the master taking his forgiveness back (is it a good idea to say that the master represents God?).

It gets even more scandalous once we begin to think about modern application. Consider this bulletin cover, taken from [a neighboring UCC church]. This bulletin was for September 11th, the Sunday for which this text was intended in the lectionary. The image is provocative enough. It gets you thinking about how difficult forgiveness truly is. It features Peter's question, 'How often shall I forgive?' and sets it against a picture of Manhattan, pre-9/11. Immediately, the difficulty of forgiveness brought before us.

Let’s take it one step further. If this picture were tailor-made, personalized for your life, what would the picture be? Who or what would you find on the page? Would it even be a reflection?

Memory is a funny thing. When it comes to forgiveness, maybe there’s nothing funny about it. In one moment, you can be transported back to a time of pain, of being wronged, of anger, of shame. Before you know it, you’re holding a grudge all over again. Feelings from the moment return. This is what makes forgiveness so absurd and so difficult. Saying the words is easy enough, but our memory takes a little longer to come around. That must be what they mean by ‘forgive and forget.’ The two in some sense go together.

Every preacher has a few favorite themes that they like to preach on. I’m not ashamed to admit that one of mine is transformation. I like Jesus’ parable because it deals with transformation. A servant is forgiven a ridiculous debt, one he had no chance of paying off. The damage was too great for him to repair. He's basically been given a new life. He walks out to a fellow servant who owes him considerably less. Up until this point, one may think or hope that a massive debt washed away will transform a person, that the second debt will be considered a blip in the radar screen, that thankfulness, graciousness, will rule the day. In the servant’s case, it doesn’t. It hasn’t sunken in at all.

Forgiveness is about a transformed relationship between two transformed people, two transformed groups, even transformation within oneself. One lets go of something, attempts to rise above the anger, the shame, the heartbreak. The other accepts such forgiveness with gratitude,
with thankfulness, with repentance.

And forgetting? Well, that’s another issue, isn’t it? Memory is indeed a funny thing. It can take a lifetime for some scars to heal. To look into our personalized pictures is to look at the most difficult memories we are harboring. The human race is comprised of debtors to one another, in various stages of forgiveness, in various stages of transformation. To completely forget, that is, to pretend an event never happened, would really be our loss. And it would be asking the impossible. Should Israelis and Palestinians pretend that centuries of destruction to one another never happened? Should this bulletin cover be rendered blank?

Miroslav Volf has a suggestion from ‘Exclusion and Embrace.’ He suggests a certain type of forgetting. He suggests that a perpetrator shouldn’t just pretend that he or she never inflicted harm. He suggests that a victim shouldn’t just pretend that he or she wasn’t harmed. Instead he suggests forgetting in terms of letting go of the anger. He suggests forgetting in terms of letting go of hatred.

At the same time, one must remember so that the future might be transformed. Remember so that others will not have to endure similar pain. Remember to break cycles of retribution and revenge. Remember in order not to destroy, but to build up God’s world and the kingdom within. Remember the new life that God in Christ is enacting in each of us, and our role as forgiven and forgivers.

May it be so. Amen.

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. Upon arrival, low-cut jeans, exposed mid-riffs and tight tank tops were exchanged for hooded sweatshirts and sweat pants. The girls breathe more easily, the burden of being cool and sexy having been lifted from their shoulders. This doesn't happen because of an imposed dress code. It's their idea. Youth group is a different community. The usual social hierarchies have no traction here, because this is Sabbath time. Here everything begins and ends with prayer, and the distinct message of the gospel permeates everything. "Hear and believe the Good News," I say to them, "Jesus is not cool."

A few thoughts on this section. First, one of the primary accusations leveled at mainline Protestantism is that it teaches 'Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,' though the language isn't that heady. 'They teach that God is nice, so be nice to each other' is a more common version. I'll concede that sometimes it can come off that way (even that sappily), and sometimes that's all it is. 'God is nice, so be nice.' No wonder the kid in the above excerpt complained that it seemed too easy. Here there is no challenge to transformation, to discipleship, to risk, to take up one's cross.

The author of this essay did one other thing for me in the above piece: give me an idea for our fall youth retreat. The working theme for it will now be, 'Jesus isn't cool.' We'll focus on the stories that made Jesus unpopular with the masses: his being thrown out of the synagogue, his healing and forgiving on the Sabbath, his proclaiming a kingdom alternative to THE kingdom, Peter trying to stand between him and the cross. 'Hear the good news. Jesus is not cool.'

Will you still follow?

Related post: The Need for a Passionate Church

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 Adam Sandler version of The Longest Yard last night. It had been advertised as a comedic romp, but there were more parts of it that were nothing close. I've heard from most places that the original is vastly superior, that it was more edgy and dark. The remake has some decent moments of social commentary, particularly on the issue of racism. And I wouldn't be myself if I didn't add that Steve Austin, Kevin Nash, and Goldberg (professional wrestlers) all put on some decent acting performances.

On rainy fall days, some of Dave Matthews Band's slower quieter material hits the spot.

On TV, I've been watching the Indians. That is all.

Around the web, Christian Century asks what challenging youth ministry might look like.

Coffee of the week is Equal Exchange's Organic Ethiopian. Say that 5 times fast.

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 I go to his room, and I'm setting up his UF campus account, and I start to notice all this weird stuff on his walls, like this cross on his bulletin board and this poster that said, 'I am the light and the world' or something. He even had one of those metal fish symbols like you see on cars. Then, when it came time to choose his password, he types in 'Corinthians,' and I was like, 'Oh, shit, get me out of here.'"

Several hours after the encounter, Arnell was once again approached by Leske, this time in the dorm's study lounge. "He came up to me and thanked me for helping him with the e-mail and everything. I was like, 'Hey no prob, man,' but he kept acting all super-nice to me," Arnell said. "I was definitely getting nervous."

After talking about his class schedule for approximately 90 seconds, Leske invited Arnell to attend a Bible reading at his church, the New Life Assembly, on Friday. When Arnell declined, saying he had other plans, Leske invited him to drop by the church's New Student Welcome Picnic on Sunday.

"I said I'd try to make it, but I told him I didn't know for sure if I could because I had a paper due the next day," said Arnell, who was raised Christian himself but is not "all weird about it." "If that guy knocks on my door Sunday morning, I'll be seriously freaked."

After becoming trapped in an excruciatingly long conversation about the importance of letting Christ into their hearts and minds, Rasbach and Marquez concluded that "something must be done." Not only will Leske's presence expose Tenney Hall residents to proselytizing, they said, but it will also make them more vulnerable to punishment for breaking dorm rules, including those pertaining to observation of quiet hours, drug and alcohol use, and visitations from females after midnight.

"That guy in 462 better not rat us out to the R.A.," Rasbach said. "We're gonna have to really watch it now." The four dormmates who assembled in Arnell's room have developed a Christian-avoidance strategy, one which includes "scoping out" the fourth-floor west wing for the possible presence of Leske before discussing the purchase of alcoholic beverages; avoiding Leske in the dorm's dining hall and study area; and agreeing to "rescue" each other from conversations with the Christian in the event of accidental contact.

"We have got to be majorly careful," Arnell said. "He'll suck you in, dude."

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 am glad that the season is over.

I really don't know what the point of this entry is other than to celebrate some sort of change in the sanctuary as well as the season. I didn't realize that such a long block without any special days would drive me so crazy. I find that I'm more creative and energized during the special seasons, both church and otherwise. I have a harder time paying attention to Ordinary Time because it's mostly so...ordinary.

Maybe I just need to challenge myself a little more during this stretch next year, to come up with programs that will sustain both my and the congregation's interest (those who are around in the summer). Maybe it's just that I and the faithful remnant need something to make Ordinary Time less ordinary. It's worth a shot, right?

Meantime, I'm loving the color appearing in the leaves and the approach of October. And that the Indians are THIS CLOSE to the playoffs makes it even sweeter.

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 hymns with organ, written liturgy as well as more free-flowing prayer, and a sermon sometimes in, sometimes out of the pulpit. It has a little something for everyone, the consequences of which being that worshippers find meaning in some parts and 'put up with' others.

Now, if our church ever separated those elements out and had two services, a few things would happen. First, there would be about 40 worshippers at each service. Second, there is always the potential, perhaps moreso in smaller churches, for attendees at one service to poo-poo the other. I've seen it happen. It ain't pretty. That's where Greg and Dave's point about community comes in.

In smaller churches, worship tends to be THE point in the week where all are together. Sure, there are specialized study groups, committee meetings, Sunday School classes, etc., but for that hour the congregation is most visible and can be experienced most distinctly.

For a place like Saddleback, opportunities are greater and more warranted to provide niches for people. People generally go to churches like that searching for niches to begin with because the opportunities for specialized ministry is there. That's the difference between a larger program-oriented church and a smaller family-oriented church. Perhaps there's a little romanticizing of the smaller church in there. I'm not sure.

I suppose that ultimately, I'm saying little more than, 'It works for them; it doesn't work for everyone.' I've pretty much said that before.

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 room. They actually allow you to wander around the warehouse to shop. There's a shelf of damaged books in one corner ('damaged' could mean that the cover is bent) for $1. I picked up two because I had $2 in my wallet and I figured that that would be a good way to limit myself. After some perusing, I ended up with The Indispensable Guide for Smaller Churches by David R. Ray and The Irrelevance and Relevance of the Christian Message by Paul Tillich.

I've been noticing during all my watching of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that no matter how menacing and dangerous they make the bad guy out to be in each episode, Buffy still kills him in 5 minutes of fighting. 'Oh, he's a very old vampire. He's destroyed many villages.' STAKE. 'Oh, this vampire can't be defeated easily.' STAKE. 'This vampire has killed two slayers.' STAKE. 'This vampire's your mom.' STA- what? 'Made you look.' That last one didn't happen. But still, the last fight never really lasts that long. It seems that the setup was always what Joss Whedon liked more, and the actual battle scenes were secondary. It makes sense. You can only develop the plot so much during those scenes.

Remember the Real Live Preacher entry to which I directed you a few entries back? Well, I read his 16-year-old daughter's history of Martin Luther that he cites at the beginning, expecting it to be a high school research paper. It's really not. I found it to be hilarious.

This entry has basically stolen all the thunder from my weekly Pop Culture Roundup, so there won't be one tomorrow. I'll find something else to write about.


~ 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 himself (some of the confessional phrases and names unique to John are found in the story), he is not overly technical or burdensome with his words.

I recently stumbled onto a high Calvinist board commenting on the Katrina situation. One news story cited in an entry had a survivor describing the aftermath as 'hell.' An apt description for the worst experience many are facing and might ever face during their lifetime. The blog's author--who may notice the remnant of a comment mysteriously left and then deleted and wander here--was quick to say, 'Actually, no, hell is a fire of eternal torment where God's wrath is never quenched.' The survivor's experience was brushed aside in favor of doctrinal correctness. The latter was deemed more important, never mind that many use 'hell' as a descriptor for the very worst moments of their lives every day.

For people in their hells, the worst scenarios they can imagine where hope is fleeting, is it best to contrive a teaching moment at the expense of acknowledging one's deepest pain? What does it say about followers of Jesus who rush to the head at the neglect of the heart? I've written elsewhere about the importance of a thinking faith, but that thinking includes evaluating when to speak and when to refrain from speaking.

I once sat with a college friend who was having relationship problems. She wasn't in 'hell' by any means but was quite distraught with where she was and needed someone to speak to. At one point I started to quote a fairly well-worn verse from Jeremiah used in times of uncertainty. She stopped me and said, 'I want you to know that you're the only person I still let quote the Bible to me.' Over a period of months, she had grown weary of Bible quotes used rather than true listening. So many had tried to play the Presbyterian and she had been seeking a Baptist. I had failed her like so many others had before me.

If only we'd shut up and cry more often.

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'm more accepting (albeit still questioning) of their approach and findings. They earn a few credits in the story of my spiritual journey because they helped me to understand that there is more to the Bible than can be discovered through a face value reading.

So thank you for your challenge to me, Dr. Funk. At this point, you're probably smirking at what you got wrong. We all will.

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 light touch that Joss Whedon applied while writing it.

I've had The Wiseguys in my car for the past few days.

Around the web, Chris T. at Progressive Protestant is moving on to other ventures. Thanks again for some good reading, Chris. I look forward to reading the new site once it gets off the ground. Don't be a stranger.

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 reason their children are slowly dying from any of a dozen diseases, the reason that they are up to their waists in corpses and human filth, is because they sinned and God saw fit to destroy their lives. Go ahead. Tell them. I'll wait.

I'm not sorry that I couldn't be more of a help to you, 0-second visitor. To be fair, you didn't find my site interesting enough to stay otherwise. No harm done. I suppose we broke even in a way. You'll find what you're looking for. There are plenty of others in cyberspace latching onto this Sodom theory. There's plenty of theo-porn out there to be found.

Great. Now I have to deal with people looking for 'porn.'

Move along. Nothing to see here. And in case you missed it, I'm not sorry about that.


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 over. I figured that it would be helpful to support a new colleague so close by. The service was very 'high church,' with parts of the liturgy sung and more formal Shakespearean English used in communion. The pastor has a rich music background, and it has been my experience that pastors with rich music backgrounds tend toward a more formal style of worship a la Catholic, Anglican, or Lutheran. They are appreciators of the music and it translates to their own settings. They were trained in sacred music, so it's to be expected. My music background consists of playing drums really loud in my basement and teaching myself acoustic guitar. We don't sing the Kyrie that often.

I got an assist from Volf in my sermon on Sunday. I talked about the crisis in New Orleans and how we shouldn't be so quick to explain that it happened because of sin. Volf speaks of God giving of the divine self and seeking not to abandon the godless but to embrace them and transform them. Transform is my word, but it still worked.

It is said that every pastor has three or four sermons that they just rotate and preach in different ways. This past Sunday was a variation on 'life sucks, but God is with us somehow.' My wife hates that one. She says I get too depressing. I haven't figured out how to lighten the mood for that one yet.

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 them in the backseat before coming to herself and switching to the front.

'Sorry,' she said. 'I was thinking about your bumper sticker.'

'That's okay.'

'All those people in New Orleans. We have to help out.'

'Most certainly.' I nodded and smiled.

She finished loading the bags and as she shut the door she said, 'Well, praise the Lord, and have a good day.'

I've never put much stock in bumper stickers as anything other than identification with a worldview. I can't really picture a scenario where someone has been swayed, for instance, to vote for a particular presidential candidate because they saw someone's name on a car, but it at least tells the rest of the country who you're going to vote for. But my sticker had an impact on someone today. It got her thinking. Either that, or it put into words something that she'd been thinking already.

God is still speaking, even through pithy phrases attached to car bumpers. Whodda thunkit.

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. Their work is just beginning, and will not end for many months. Strengthen them for service.

- Be present, O God, with the people of the United Church of Christ in storm damaged areas, and especially with the staff and clients of the Back Bay Mission in Biloxi where we fear so much has been damaged. Inspire us by their determination to care for others amid their own trials.

- Be present, O God, to each of us as we pray, that distance may not deter us from generous giving and enduring companionship. Help us remember tomorrow, and next week, and next month.

- Be present, O God, with all affected by Hurricane Katrina. May Immanuel, God with us, our precious Jesus, take every hand and lead us home. Amen.

Taken from the UCC website.

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'd compiled several downloaded music videos. The first was Sarah McLachlan's Possession. You know how people have short lists of artists that they liked more before everyone else started liking them? Sarah McLachlan is one of mine. Before she was doing Lilith Fair and contributing songs to pop theology Meg Ryan movies, I had Fumbling Toward Ecstasy in my stereo all the time. The second was dc Talk's Jesus Freak, which was an anthem for an entire generation of Christian high schoolers and college students.

Around the web, Church World Service is setting up relief funds for New Orleans.

In the mug is Nepenthe. In the goblet is some more Stephen Vincent.