Embodying Christ: Fellowship

Continuing my Ordinary Time preaching series, this is what was heard this morning, roughly pieced together and simplified...

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

In an older episode of The Simpsons--a Valentine's Day episode--the middle daughter, Lisa, prepares for her class' Valentine party. They've all got their little bags hung on their desks and everyone is passing their Valentines out. Lisa notices that a classmate, Ralph--very much an outcast--is depressed over not receiving a single one. Wanting to help, she crosses out a name on one of her Valentines and drops it in his bag. Unfortunately, he mistakes this gesture for something more than it is. He rushes to walk Lisa home from school in order to try getting to know her better. There is an awkward silence before Ralph ventures a start to the conversation: 'So...do you like...stuff?'

It was an attempt to break the ice. It sounded silly, but Ralph took that first step. The Corinthians are beyond breaking the ice. Now they're learning more about what comes next. This is a church wrought with problems, the latest of which is detailed in this part of the letter. The Corinthian church, which we might imagine is made up of Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, men and women, and so on, are met with a new designation from Paul: the 'weak' and the 'strong.' The ones who have knowledge and the ones who don't.

And what is this knowledge about? It is in reference to the practice of eating food sacrificed to idols. It was understood that taking part in this ritual--eating it, sacrificing it, participating in the communal meal featuring this meat whatsoever--was to acknowledge the idol's existence or power. The ones 'with knowledge' knew that 'there is no God but the God of Christ' and 'no idol really exists,' so for them, they were merely sharing a meal with others. However, to a 'weak' one, one 'without knowledge,' eating such meat was to acknowledge the idol. Paul's concern was that the 'weak ones' would think that idol worship was still okay.

This is just the latest in a long list of ways that the Corinthians are trying to figure out how to live with each other. We might imagine the 'strong ones' saying things like, 'Well...why should I care what they think? Why do I have to wait for them to catch up or be mindful of where they are in their spiritual journey? It'd be nice if they were just as enlightened as me. Instead, you're suggesting that I have to watch what I'm doing?' The Corinthians were not known for modesty or selflessness, so such things might have been said. How are these 'strong' ones and 'weak' ones to get along? Are they doomed to walk together in awkward silence?

Mike Yankoski has a book called Under the Overpass. It chronicles his experiences over a five-month period of being homeless. His decision to do this comes after he hears a sermon entitled, 'Be the Christian You Say You Are.' Convicted by this, he wonders if he could live without his material comforts, and so he organizes this trip through five American cities with a friend.

One story that he relates takes place in a coffeehouse. His friend has wandered off to explore the neighborhood, and he's decided to stay behind and do some journaling. He buys a cup of coffee and starts writing. Before too long, the manager of the coffeehouse steps up and says, 'Excuse me...only paying customers can sit in our dining room.' (You have to remember that by this point, Mike has begun to look and smell the part) Mike answers, 'Well, I bought some coffee, so there's no problem. Thanks.' The manager doesn't leave. Again, he says, 'This is only for paying customers.' 'I heard you. I have my coffee.' He changes his story: 'Well, there's a 45-minute limit on sitting at our tables. You need to leave.' Mike is able to negotiate to wait for his friend, and the two leave, dejected.

Mike wasn't looking for fellowship exactly. Instead, he was looking for welcome. The two are linked, really. To have fellowship with someone is to welcome them and be welcomed by them. To engage in meaningful fellowship with someone, you have in some sense welcomed them in their interests and hobbies, their joys and sadness, their grief, their pain, their family background, their fears and worries. To be in fellowship is to welcome these things, however bizarre or different they seem. To be in fellowship is to ask, 'How are you doing?' and to stay for the answer. It is to give a piece of your time, and a piece of yourself. It is venturing out, even with 'So...do you like stuff?' and hoping that your question will be welcomed with an answer.

In fellowship, we, like the Corinthians, strive to figure out what it means to walk together in faith. It is to recognize another as God's beloved, to love others as Christ has loved us. What we are knowledgeable about doesn't matter. We put it away in order not to be puffed up at another's expense. Instead, we seek to be built up in love. Welcome, and be welcomed.

On Change and the Emerging Church

People generally frown on 'change for change's sake.' Honestly, I'm a bit of a fan.

It might be the influence of our consumer culture that causes it. You know, the whole 'If you get too bored, throw it out/go somewhere else because my product/company/church is bigger/faster/more hip' thing. I don't buy into it entirely, but I know that at some level I'm influenced by it.

Likewise, there's my own background. The record for my calling any one house my home is five years. I've called one place my hometown for twelve years, but when you break it down, I lived on one side of a duplex, then the other, and then in an actual house, and then four of those were spent at college and three at seminary. So the record for longest stay in a house is five years. I've come to just accept that a place is home only for a little while. This is why I've been saying that if I spent my entire life in a place like Florida or Southern California or some other place that is to others a 'dream location,' I'd be bored beyond tears.

I don't know how much of this is environmental and how much of it might just be mental. My psych degree-carrying wife thinks I have Adult ADHD, but it's not like she has a degree in...fine. So maybe it's a little nature AND nurture. The bottom line is, after a while I tend to get bored with the way things are. I have an unhealthy attachment to my watch and calendar. I wonder too much about the next thing. When will the current thing be done so that the next thing can start? I have to work on my 'in the moment' skills.

What I truly love, though, is when change goes beyond change's sake. When change serves a greater purpose, that's a huge bonus. When I look out on Sundays and see people's spirits crying out for this dirge of a hymn to be over, I wonder about change in worship, or perhaps just the hymnal. When I consider how a different day off might help serve the church better, change seems fairly easy. Changing from manuscript preaching to out-of-pulpit preaching was one of the most exciting things I did my first year of ministry, because it felt so natural and real; like connection with the congregation would be made that much easier.

I think that this is why I'm so intrigued by the emerging church. They're talking about something new. They're talking about changes, but not change for change's sake. They're wondering how a younger generation might be served. Much to the disappointment of many, they propose some massive changes. I still can't quite wrap my brain around what they're about, but that's supposed to be an emerging church hallmark. Some strands seem to be Evangelicalism in a goatee, others seem much more 'liberal.' I've said before that they seem to be doing what the UCC professes to do (big tent of diversity), only better (i.e., not having all national spokespeople from a particular theo-politcal bent). I still don't know nearly enough about them, but this is what I've gathered from reading.

At any rate, I like their consideration of what needs to change. I pray that change for change's sake in this case is kept to a minimum.

And now I'm going to go re-arrange something.

Pop Culture Roundup

I haven't read a book in almost an entire week. Tillich is still going strong, but there's a lull in the discussion. I start Part 1 of his Systematics today. I have, of course, been spending lots of time with 1 Corinthians 8 this week, which is a great text. Okay, I'll switch out of theo-nerd mode now...

We've seen two movies this week. The first was
Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which had just the right amount of comedy and action. It was over the top, but it knew it was over the top. The argument they have during a high-speed chase while they shoot at bad guys, for instance, is something that's been used before, but they make it work so well. In fact, by the end I thought to myself, 'This whole thing has been done before, hasn't it?' But you don't think about that until the end because you're too busy enjoying yourself. And Vince Vaughn is gold.

That leads me to the second movie we've seen this week, which was
Wedding Crashers (the Uncorked Version, of course). Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn crash weddings, stuff themselves, get drunk, and take advantage of weddinged-up women. The majority of the movie is about their learning life lessons about true love, but of course it doesn't come easy (especially in Vince's case). There is the Finding Out, followed by the happy ending. It's how we get there that's fun. And what would a movie starring Wilson and Vaughn be without at least one of their other buddies making a cameo?

I picked up Keller Williams'
Stage (a double live CD) and have been listening to it in the car non-stop. Williams is an amazing acoustic guitar player, and his lyrics are a wacky sort of clever. He does a lot of instrumentation with his voice, but I didn't realize the extent of that until I started listening to this album.

As I was putting together this week's Roundup, I thought to myself, 'What if some of the Christians who frequent other blogs I read stumble onto this one and see a pastor enjoying movies like Wedding Crashers?' On two separate blogs I've seen controversies arise over one blogger's moderate drinking and another's using an occasional George Carlin word. Then I read
LutheranChik's rant on reactions to Book of Daniel (a show that sounded god-awful to me) and found that she raised some decent questions.


Katherine and I seem to be on a similar page when it comes to Christian music. Some of it IS quite good. Seriously.

LutheranChik doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up. Me neither.

Internet Monk has his next installment about sermons. I found this one much more helpful.

RLP posts the brain fart that a public library had with their MLK Day poster. The actual explanation is probably something completely different, but it's still kind of funny.

Taking Back Monday

I've been thinking about switching one of my days off. I don't know why this is blog-worthy, why anyone would find this interesting. But there it is. I've been thinking about switching one of my days off.

Right now, Fridays and Saturdays are the days I've chosen to abstain from church work. They work...usually. By that time, my sermon has congealed enough in my memory, but not enough that I'm fully comfortable going the entire two days without practicing it. It's a long time in between Thursday and Sunday to forget what I planned to say.

Saturdays in particular have become a freaking hassle. I have Saturdays off...unless we're hosting a steak supper...or the youth are hosting a program...or there's a wedding...or the only day a couple planning to get married/have their kid baptized can meet with me is Saturday...or the Association is hosting a meeting. Other than that, the day is all mine. During Advent, this wasn't possible. During February, it won't be either.

Pastors-to-be are told, at least at my seminary alma mater, to take time off seriously. Self care. Self care. Self care. If ya don't get it, make up for it.

This is not a 9-to-5, Monday-Friday profession, either. We work weekends. There's no getting around that. Increasingly, we pastors are in good company on that one. Some church programs just work better on Saturdays. People are more free, they haven't just come from an 8-hour workday (in theory)...Saturdays are a prime day for church activities. Sunday is family day, so after worship, don't bother planning much.

All of this is to say that in Rome, act like the Romans. As much as I bite and claw to maintain Saturday as a day of rest, it's becoming increasingly difficult to do so. And when the schedule does happen to be clear, my grumpiness meter starts to climb from about 7:00 onward because of the 'worried I'll forget my sermon' thing.

The alternative? Mondays. My predecessor took this day, so the congregation was used to no activities on Mondays until I came along and screwed it all up. I'm the only one in the office that morning at this point. People still rarely stop in then. I can spend the whole day coming down from the relief that I (mostly) remembered the sermon, do some chores, read, play guitar, watch wrestling, and start my week the next morning.

Saturdays provide such wonderful opportunities. I can catch all those people who work during the week and are too busy to talk to the pastor. I can work on my sermon guilt-free (though probably not grump-free). Steak dinner or youth program or Association meeting? I'm working anyway! Bring it on!

I'm way too excited about this. I can't take my mind off the refreshment potential that this brings to my week. Two days off that are at least more legitimate than before can be an exciting thing to a pastor. It's not two days in a row any more, but it's two full days. Hopefully.

Embodying Christ: Evangelism

I'm preaching a series of sermons on various ways in which the church is called to embody Christ. The series will carry us through this brief period of Ordinary Time. Here is today's, rougly pieced together from the outline of my memory...

Diets are a dime a dozen. Go to Borders, and you will find two entire bookshelves devoted to The Next Big Diet, all promising that you will begin approaching your ideal weight within a short span of time. We have the old standbys such as Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, and the more recent Atkins and South Beach. There's even the Special K diet, where you substitute two meals for bowls of Special K. The thing about that is...you loose weight because all you're eating is Special K. Diets are a dime a dozen. They promise a 'quick and easy' way to achieve your goal

'Quick and easy.' A symptom of a larger cultural problem. We like things quick and easy. We like results fast and now. If that doesn't happen, well...throw it out and try something else. Quick and easy. Results now.

There's something about evangelism that might cause the hairs on our necks to stand on end. We in our tradition might not be as comfortable with it. Other traditions and churches are much moreso. They seem to do it so much better. It comes so natural. Why is it so tough for us? There may be a number of reasons. Evangelism brings with it a list of questions and worries that cause us to pause when the concept is mentioned. Am I just supposed to walk up to a stranger and talk to them about my faith? I don't think I know enough about Christianity to present a good case. What if I end up sounding stupid, looking stupid? What about other religions? What does evangelism mean in light of them? These are all valid questions and concerns, not all of which will be covered this morning. Nevertheless, we may keep them in mind as we consider evangelism.

First, what is evangelism? The words 'evangelize,' 'evangelist,' 'evangelism' all come from the Greek word evangelion, which means 'good news,' or 'gospel.' To evangelize is to tell the gospel, to proclaim the good news.

So, then, what is the good news? Jesus helps us define that. He has just come back from 40 days of temptation in the wilderness and is just beginning his public ministry. As he does so, he proclaims, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near! Repent, and believe the good news!' The kingdom of God has come near. This, according to Jesus, is the good news. And what is the kingdom of God? It is a kingdom over and against Rome and its values. It is a kingdom witnessed to us by Jesus' life and teaching, death and resurrection. It is a kingdom where death does not have the final word. It is a kingdom where God's love and justice is the rule and proclaims that all are equal in God's eyes rather than the best being the richest, the best-looking, and so on. It is a kingdom where forgiveness and love carry us and challenge us. Here it is for us to recieve and to challenge and transform us. This is good news indeed.

How to share that? After all, there is still that worry that we'll look or sound silly. Can this really be done? Maybe it's not as hard as we think. You see a movie that you connect with in some way...your favorite actor or actress stars in it, there's one scene that feels like it's been plucked right out of your life, there's a line that reasonates with you, the plot is just put together well....You hear a song. You love the music, it's by your favorite artist, there's a line or two that once again seem to be plucked right from your own life....You meet someone. This person makes you fall over laughing every time he or she opens his or her mouth. Their very presence is intoxicating. You are mesmorized by every word, every action.

What's the first thing you do? You call someone you know...

You have got to see this movie.

You have got to hear this song.

You have got to meet this person.

Evangelism is, in a sense, second nature to us. We say things like this to people we know almost every day. All that changes for us is the subject matter. 'You have got to experience the kingdom.' 'You have got to meet this guy Jesus.' Somehow this good news has taken root within us and has spoken to us. It is inside us, working. 'You have got to experience this for yourself.' We say this because we know the experience is real, is life-giving, and has changed us.

What about the 'who' question. Can we really approach a stranger with this? Evangelism is in some sense about relationship. The kingdom of God is built on relationships. I knew a group in college who carried around with them these little booklets, about the size of a business card. They WOULD stop strangers on the sidewalk, take them through the booklet, and then after a 10-minute talk, the continuing of the relationship seemed to hinge on whether the stranger would accept what he or she had to say. In evangelism, you need to get to know people. You need to care about them. The kingdom is about knowing people's ins and outs, ups and downs. It is taking grief and joy seriously. It is loving someone in a genuine way. Evangelism carries with it a call to relationship to show that the kingdom is working in us.

Evangelism is sharing what we've discovered with someone else. It is saying that God knows another's problems, but they won't go away easily. 'Quick and easy.' But it will change your life. It is an experience like no other that lasts your whole life.

Consider Jesus...not because I want to push you to do so, but because I know meaning in his life, proclaim his death, and celebrate his resurrection.

Come to church with me...not because we're eager to fill our pews or offering plates, but because I want you to experience what I've experienced there.

Consider the kingdom...not because it offers a quick and easy solution, but because it will comfort and challenge you in wonderful ways. This is God's love at work.

And that is good news indeed.


He allowed his weight to do most of the work as he eased back into the driver's seat. A turn of the key and the engine awoke. A flip of a lever and his dashboard glowed a soft orange. He wasn't quite set to take off the brake. Instead, he savored the escape of a sigh that felt like it had been building up for years.

He looked back toward the store he just left. An entire building filled with the knowledge and experience of others printed and bound for the world's consumption, and to him all those words were as thin as the pages on which they were written. Tens of thousands of gallons of ink spilled and not one that satisfied his thirst. Tens of thousands of trees harvested and not one that gave more than a superficial pep talk, a 12-step list to better times, a study of more words from another book.

He had no more breath to waste. He let down the brake and put it in reverse.

A new CD sang to him, fresh out of the shrink wrap. A live set from a lesser-known artist. The guy at the cash register had asked about it. He made an attempt at an explanation. The cashier wouldn't give it a second thought after he left. The guitar wove in and out from behind the bass and drums as he wove around a slow-moving Toyota. He took a quick glance...ice cream. The guy was trying to juggle an ice cream cone with the steering wheel. Brilliant. And this after he had to wait for the long line of cars in the other lane to pass them both. He was always the one stuck as everyone else showed a little more initiative. One day he'd fix that.

He pulled into the driveway, the garage lighting up as the door rose. A few more bars of the song before the engine came to a rest. He collected his newest acquisitions and made his way toward the front door.

Except this time he lingered.

He gazed up at the steeple next to him, immersed in bright white spotlights for traffic to see. It pointed to a dark overcast night. No stars. Only the glow from a nearby town.

The night was warm enough for a pause, warm enough to wonder about what all those words were trying to define, what this steeple was trying to direct him toward.

He waited, plastic bag softly crinkling in the breeze, as if some heavenly bus was going to swoop down and deliver a real answer.

Pop Culture Roundup

I've been working through Tillich's Systematic Theology with my online study group. The assigned portion was the Introduction in which he discusses how we do theology each out of our own experience. This is not an argument for relativism, but an acknowledgment of what we're really doing when ascribing theological and doctrinal norms to scripture and to church tradition. I'm really getting into it, although I can only read so much at a time.

We saw Chronicles of Narnia the other week. It's been so long since I read the book, but snippets came back to me as I watched. The first half or so, I wondered, 'So...where's the Christian allegory?' Then it almost beats you over the head with it. I understand now why Tolkien hated allegory so much...it's so transparent. The CGI is some of the better stuff out there, though.

My beloved Arrested Development might see its end soon if someone else doesn't pick it up. Its last four episodes on Fox will be run together. On a Friday night. Opposite the Olympics. Great.

The Wiseguys are nice to bounce to on the way to the nursing home. At home, lately it's been Radiohead.

Around the web, LutheranChik has some thoughts to share on ramifications of 'just read it' Biblicism.

So today I'm INFP

I usually score almost smack-dab in the middle of I-E. Not scoring J was my other surprise. Ah well. Hey...saying 'Ah well' is the sign of a P, isn't it? Ah well. There it is again. Thanks to Meg for helping me kill 3 minutes.

INFP - the Healer
You scored 36% I to E, 36% N to S, 23% F to T, and 63% J to P!
You are more introverted than extroverted. You are more intuitive than observant, you are more feeling based than thinking based, and you prefer to go with the flow rather than having a plan. Your type can best be summarized by the word "Healer", which belongs to the larger group of idealists. You have a capacity for caring that is deeper than most. You strive for unity, are fascinated by the battles between good and evil, and can be something of an idealist. Only 1% of the population shares your type.
As a romantic partner, you are usually supprtive and nuturing, however, you have a high need for individuality. Harmony is extremely important to you as you are very affected by conflict and tension, which also makes you resist confronting your partner directly about problems. When you get angry, you usually blame yourself, rather than your partner. You can also be stubborn and unyielding when you feel you are being criticized or mistreated. You feel the most appreciated when your partner listens to you carefully. You need to be understood. You need to hear your partner express their feelings, the more often, the better. Your group summary: idealists (NF)
Your type summary: INFP

My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:

free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 47% on I to E

free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 43% on N to S

free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 15% on F to T

free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 70% on J to P
Link: The LONG Scientific Personality Test written by unpretentious2 on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

'May the words of my mouth...'

I think a lot about preaching.

I think about points and moves, how to arrange them, how they should flow in and out of one another.

I think about the text, when and where it was written and how God might speak through it to a room full of 21st-Century Midwesterners.

I think about illustrations, whether they make sense, whether they're relevant, whether I want a laugh, whether they're too cheesy or moralizing or personal.

I think about how individual congregants will receive it. Will a reference to depression be too much for X, will a mention of death be too soon for Y, will a question about the Iraq war be offensive to Z?

Lately, I've been thinking that I say the same thing every. Single. Week.

Come on any given Sunday and you will hear me touch on one of the following themes: transformation, God's loving presence, the kingdom of God, mission to the poor, comfort to the grieving, the cost and joy of discipleship, how crappy the world is, new life. That last one in particular makes it into 75% of the sermons I preach, closely followed by musing on the world's crappiness. My wife lets me know if I go on too long about how much the world sucks. What can I say? Plenty of material.

Anyway, looking at the above list, I don't think it's as bad as I did when I typed the first sentence. That's my 'gospel within the gospel,' so to speak, my list of favorite themes within the divine-human experience. I wonder, however, if I could find more creative ways to communicate these themes instead of saying 'God is creating new life in us' for the thousandth time. That's the rut in which I find myself. But maybe it's only a rut to me.

Internet Monk is thinking about preaching. But his series isn't that helpful to my rut yet.

Tom Allen at Faithworks is a little more helpful. He's talking about some techniques that people in the emerging church are using and stops by Fred Craddock's place to ask him for some thoughts as well. I was struck by this quote:

Jones adapts his preaching style to the biblical narrative. “I try to embody the text,” he says. “It’s whatever I think the text demands.”

Sometimes that’s wearing a robe and preaching from a carefully worded manuscript. Sometimes it’s sitting on a stool telling stories. Occasionally it means leaving the sermon totally open-ended.

“If the text is an unresolved text,” he says, “don’t tie it up in a neat little package. A friend of mine calls it the ‘Aesop’s fable-ization’ of Scripture, where you feel like every time you teach something, you have to have a moral at the end.

“There’s not a moral at the end of a lot of these [biblical] stories. It’s just confusing, weird.”

Something in there is saying that there's another way, a more creative way, to say 'God is creating new life' without saying those words. Perhaps such a phrase or reading one of my favorite themes is my own 'Aesop's fable-ization.' Perhaps I'm just bored with my style and am looking for a more complete way to embody the text, to let it demand what it demands. Perhaps the week-to-week schedule doesn't allow for as much creativity as I'd like.

Then again, these themes to which I return are my way of communicating basic truths of the church's life of faith. Why not repeat them? Why not proclaim, again, that God is creating new life in humanity and in the world? That's not a terrible thing for God to be doing. The trick, I think, is altering, if ever so slightly, the examples and application of such a truth.

I'll keep thinking about that.

Well, that's interesting...

You scored as Monarchianism. You are a Monarchian. You seek to retain monotheistic belief but in doing so abandon the idea of a triune God. God exists as the Father only, though he can reveal himself in other ways in a manner similar to modalism. Jesus is a man who is adopted into the Godhead and given divine status. Jehovah's Witnesses still hold to this belief.







Chalcedon compliant






















Are you a heretic?
created with QuizFarm.com

I didn't expect that...especially because I disagree strongly with modalism. Hm.

Thanks to Chris for the link.

Where I Am on MLK Day

I hope that people are finding time today to reflect on the vision and message of Martin Luther King, Jr. I'm glad to have found such time, and I wanted to share some of my thinking here.

Anyone who has been to seminary can probably name a few regrets. Maybe you could've studied harder for a certain test, spent more time out of the apartment, got to know a fellow student or professor a little better. In different ways, these all make my list. But there's another regret that tops them all for me, and it's going to sound strange.

My first multiracial experience that I can remember was when my father pastored a UCC church in Galien, Michigan (it's not UCC any more...I think it's just Evangelical now). This was a very racially integrated church. I went to Sunday School and worship with a sizeable black population, and I can remember a couple gospel songs that we sang during our SS gathering time. I thought nothing of it, people's skin color didn't really register with me. Honestly, the Cosby Show was really popular at that time and I thought it was just like going to church with the Huxtables. My brain just made that connection.

We then moved to rural Ohio, where there was exactly one black student in the entire elementary school. He was sort of an underachiever, and certain comments by classmates (and teachers) seemed to implicitly connect it with his race. He got singled out in multiple ways. After 5-6 years of this environment, we moved again to a small city where there was a much bigger minority population (black, Hispanic, and Asian). But by this time I was shy about interacting with people of other races. I like to think that eventually I was able to 're-program' myself to interact, but there was that second naivete where you wonder what you can and can't say and so on. My knowledge of history between races as well as wondering how we in our ethnic and cultural differences might be able to be in fellowship now, was the basis for my uneasiness. But it was never a stupid kind of uneasiness where I'd blurt something like, 'So...do your people get sunburnt?' or 'Have you seen that Malcolm X movie?'

My regret from seminary isn't really the point of this entry, so I won't even mention it now. But a regret that I will share is that discomfort that I still harbor on some scale even since I moved back to a racially integrated school system and city some 14 years ago (I forego reflecting on moving back to an all-white church in the same county as my elementary school after being in St. Louis for 3 years). I venture that we might all have that discomfort at some level.While I can never fully understand the situation of one whose race differs from mine, I can still work alongside them toward the new reality that Jesus preached and one that King helped to fight for. And I give thanks for my time at Eden for many reasons, one being because it helped me to better realize my own history and how it might help me do this in my ministry.

Insect Evangelism

I've been slowly plodding through Tillich this afternoon, but have had to stop many times. This frequent stopping has not been due to deep thoughts on which I must ruminate more. This is not due to frustration over not understanding one of his points. It's actually because I've been reading it with the TV on. Spiderman 2 was on HBO, and then I switched over to all those 'make fun of pop culture' shows on VH1. You know those shows...it's like if the artsy group in high school got together and produced a show to rag on the popular group (and as president of the Drama Club, I would have had my own feature report each week). It's all the celebrity screw-ups you can fit into half-hour time blocks.

Well, recently a new show has been added to the lineup called Web Junk, where they gather a bunch of video clips from around the internet and point out how hilarious, embarrassing, or stupid they are. If you've spent enough time on the internet, you've probably seen clips that might warrant a mention. The Carlton Big Ad comes to mind. Perhaps an on-air flub by a local news personality has been making the rounds. And who can forget those loveable dancing badgers? This show rounds up twenty clips each episode and delivers them with gusto.

The episode that was on this afternoon (apparently the first) featured a doctored clip of Tom Cruise attacking Oprah, a narcoleptic dog that suddenly collapses in the middle of a full sprint, and Tyra Banks yelling at a model wannabe. The number one clip this week was less funny and more intriguing...at least to me. In this last clip, a young woman (college age, I'm guessing) is dared to eat a live praying mantis. She passes it back and forth between hands, trying to figure out the best angle to start chomping. She's a little squeamish about the whole thing, but in the background can be heard the howls of encouragement from a bunch of 20-something-year-olds. She eventually takes the plunge, even giving us a show mid-chewing to see the remnants of a bug that was probably just minding its own business in the campus park that afternoon when here comes this dude in a backwards baseball cap who just scoops it up and places it in a mayonnaise jar.

Of course, we can take some consolation that if the mantis was male, it would have been eaten eventually anyway.

Now here's the other interesting part of the scenario. The woman wasn't in the midst of a kegger getting egged on by the local frat. The group that filmed this apparently made a deal with some friends that if she ate little Mr. Bugeyes, the friends had to go to church with them.

Praying mantis. Get it?

My feelings are mixed on the actual implications of this stunt. Hey, the friends have to go to church now. Are they atheist? Merely disillusioned types? 'Seekers?' Bug haters? I can recall an occasional deal of outrageousness being struck in college to come to the campus group, but it was more between people who had no personal stock in the event rather than between 'innies' and 'outies.' It was more along the lines of, 'If you go, I'll go.'

Nevertheless, the chick ate the bug. Now y'all have to come sit in church! Boo-yah! Hallelujah!

I'm not one to dismiss the influence of the Holy Spirit once it gets started. Perhaps these atheist/disillusioned/seeker/anti-mantis friends would end up connecting with the worship in some way. Perhaps a seed would be planted, a door opened, an egg hatched and a larva born. I tend to think of evangelism in terms of one person who truly loves another person sharing the truth he or she has discovered in ways appropriate to the relationship. In a dorm room, this is the type of stuff one might do.

I was originally going to get all cynical about the levels to which people stoop to drag people to church, but I can't do that with any honesty in this instance. You know, the friends for whom this tape was made probably watched it with a smirk and a chuckle. In fact, the deal was probably made that way to begin with. I highly doubt that the ones in the atheist/disillusioned/seeker/loathing-of-insects camp watched the tape and afterwards raised their arms shouting, 'Curses! I am foiled by the oppressive and despicable depths to which Christians sink in order that I might be heinously forced against my will to suffer the manipulative effects of hymns and sermons and bake sales and hardwood benches! I must stand proud and not be moved by the destruction of of one Stagmomantis carolina! Its death shall be avenged with great ferocity as I refuse a second invitation to this thing you call church!'

I'm not sure whether that satirical rant was aimed at Christians more cynical than myself or atheist/disillusioned/seeker/those-who-seek-the-destruction-of-all-things-Arthropoda. Or perhaps this is part of my openly processing the video right before your very eyes. You be the judge.

Anyway, the point of all of this (if there is one) is to say that with the exception of dearly departed Mr. Bugeyes, there were no sad faces and evangelism, no matter how hideously creative, should be done with love. It should be done with genuine feelings of respect toward another. These kids decided to make fun little wager (again, Mr. Bugeyes gets the short end of the stick on this) and anticipate a new wrinkle in what is probably already a series of complicated, deepening relationships. What I love the most about the witness of this clip is that there is no superficiality to it. There's no temporary aspect to it. Long ago I became disillusioned with the 'wham-bam-thank you Jesus' style of evangelism where a kid gets approached with a little booklet and the endurance of the relationship might be contingent on whether he accepts or not. A couple friends making a bet to eat bugs, believe it or not, is deeper than that.

Still, I'd prefer to skip the bug part. That's just me, though.

And the 'Worst Choice of Words Award' goes to...

White Out the Indians - from a banner at a local high school gym.

Pop Culture Roundup

As part of an online study, I've started Paul Tillich's Systematic Theology. I'm on the Introduction, which spends a lot of time on his method. He makes a distinction between philosophy and theology in that while both seek the universal logos, theology (at least Christian theology) has already entrusted itself in the Logos. He discusses the creative philosopher being a 'hidden theologian,' a concept with which I'm still wrestling (how could an atheist doing philosophy be a 'hidden theologian?'). The group with which I'm studying this work has presented a few remarks on the subject and I have yet to respond.

A few weeks ago I finally got around to watching Crash, and I'm glad I finally did. The movie takes place in Los Angeles (a city more notorious for race relations) and presents everyone as both perpetrator and victim in some way. There are one or two happy endings (some more contrived than others), but for the most part situations are left unresolved. People work out of their stereotypes of others (or themselves), and no easy answers are presented. It's a very intense movie, but deserving of its praise.

I've been thinking about going to see a Robert Randolph show coming up in a few weeks.

Around the web, Internet Monk muses on the theology inherent in Fazoli's advertising.

The Good News

Next Sunday's lectionary includes a passage from Mark 1:14-15:

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

There are various understandings of what the good news, or gospel, essentially is. This passage sums it up pretty well for me: the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe. This kingdom is one over and against the powers and principalities of the age, one where God's love is the rule rather than who looks the best, does the best, earns the most money. This kingdom is one of both comfort and challenge, both hope and inspiration, both forgiveness and repentence, death of the old and instilling of the new. For me, this kingdom is personified in a man who lived with the lowly, believed God to his death, and through his resurrection is still present with us. Christ is risen because the kingdom is real. This is good news indeed.

Every time I drive a certain highway, I see a billboard with the following message on it:

Avoid Hell
Believe in Jesus

This is genuinely thought to be the good news for many Christians in the United States. The good news is that Christ died so you don't have to go to hell. Christ took on the weight of your sins so that God won't hate you any more. A good news that puts hell up front as a primary piece is a strange bit of good news. The first piece of this that makes no sense is the idea that simply by virtue of your changing your mind about a couple beliefs, you're on the road to heaven. 'Believe in Jesus.' I'll be fair and assume that 'believe in' is meant to take root a little deeper. However, that the sole aim of this belief is to avoid eternal torment is based on fear, not hope or faith or joy or even transformation based on inspiration. If I am inspired to repent, to change, by this 'gospel,' it is so God won't be so angry with me.

Meanwhile, what is revealed in a proclamation that the kingdom of God has come near is a proclamation that we are invited to this kingdom. There is cost, but there is also joy. It will change you and you will inspired to be changed...not to get on the 'nice' list, but to participate in what God is enacting.

Snippets from My Life

So...a question for the pastoral types who read this. Let's say that you serve a church whose governing board meets every month. Let's say that the day and time for this meeting never changes month to month, and there is only ever one announced month when it doesn't meet. Now...let's say that due to a few oversights, the meeting for a particular month doesn't get announced--bulletin, during morning announcements, and it doesn't get put on the calendar. This month is not the month when it is not scheduled. Would anyone be justified in not coming to this meeting because 'they didn't know about it?'

Right, so I haven't posted in a while. I had a great time with my Dad's family the second half of last week. My grandparents help lead a worship service at a nursing home and they noticed that I'd brought my guitar along. So on a couple hours' notice, I printed out the chords to 'Here I Am, Lord' and played it for them. Later on in the week I got to jam a little with my cousin and uncle, and even learned a little guitar theory (something I've been working on learning lately).

I've decided that I don't really like nursing homes that much. I've actually known this for a while, but I verbalized it for the first time to my wife. There's so much about them that leads me to wonder just how well its residents are being cared for. Tired, fallen faces watch you pass their room on your way to visit someone else (it's always someone else)...there's always that smell of human waste mixed with cleaner...the walls are painted an institutional green and everyone is provided a TV and a cot and not much else, and meanwhile there's a nice setup with a leather couch and coffee table in the front room where potential residents' families are taken to show how wonderful and warm a place this is. I want to believe the best about the staff...I just wonder how much better care we could be taking with those who can no longer care for themselves.

New Year's was its usual mix of fun, food, and 'Why do we fool ourselves into thinking that this means anything?' feelings. In short, I played some games, ate a lot, and didn't feel any different the next day. It could have been a weekend get-together in the middle of May, for all I cared. New Year's...bah, humbug.

I have two more anniversaries to celebrate this month...I'll have been with my wife for 7 years on the 15th (been with...not married to...that's not until June), and I celebrate my first year of ordination on the 23rd.

That's enough for now. This was really an entry to force myself to write something new. I haven't been inspired since coming back from vacation.

Happy Anniversary

No Roundup today. Probably tomorrow or Sunday, as I've been spending my time in other ways the past few days. We've been enjoying time with family whom we haven't seen in a year (and other family we haven't seen for even longer). We have found joy in this time, and otherwise we have found sadness and disappointment in the West Virginia mine story and uncertainty in Israel's future with Sharon's illness (and anger and some wonderment why Pat Robertson is still allowed to say things in public...let alone that people listen to him).

Anyway, January carries with it a few important anniversaries for me, and I guess I can add another to the list.

Today, Philosophy Over Coffee turns 1. I think it's kind of cool that today is also Epiphany.

I thought I'd poop out a few months into keeping this, but here it is a year later. I've found a new set of cyber-friends, have been your man in the field for General Synod, have begun to find the blog's niche as a place to explore where theology and experience meet in full-time ministry (it only took a year).

Here's to another year in the blogosphere. Thanks for reading.

Beyond Belief

In addition to 'Tis, I've been reading through Beyond Belief by Elaine Pagels. Essentially, Pagels wishes to explore the church's varying movements during the first few centuries of its life. While she mentions Marcion, the 'mystery religions,' and a few other early variations of Christian thought, she wishes to focus on two: Irenaeus and his use of the Gospel of John, and the community that used the Gospel of Thomas. She skips around a lot, pulling from the four canonical Gospels as well as a handful of the Gospels discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945. She seems to wind to and fro, in and out, describing similarities and differences among beliefs. It gets a little confusing and at more than one point I asked, 'Why'd you pull that into the discussion when you were talking about this whole other thing over here...?' Not the most engaging work I've picked up.

That being said, here's one thesis I think I've been able to glean from this book: Irenaeus, in his quest to achieve unity in doctrine, helped define such a doctrine and then did his best to purge his communities of those who disagreed.

Read that last sentence again. In order to achieve unity...Irenaeus wanted to kick a bunch of people out.

Is that unity, or uniformity? Sounds like the latter to me. Granted, Pagels is set on presenting 'the untold story,' if you will. She chiefly wants to present the thoughts of Irenaeus' opponents. The 'orthodox' view, after all, is the one that prevailed, so one can read about that in the history books, written by the winners.

What sort of differences? The one she discusses the most has to do with God's relationship with humanity. The Gospel of John (or at least Irenaeus' interpretation of John) proposes achieving proper knowledge of God through Jesus. Indeed, this is the only way. Jesus, the divine Light of the World, is God identifying with humanity. The view presented through the Thomas community is that through Jesus, we might discover God's Light in ourselves.

Imagine that. A debate that has been raging for 2000 years instead of just in the last 150 with despised rise of historical criticism and despicable classical liberalism (and later liberationism).

Imagine that. A debate that started not with the 'right' view and then a bunch of challenges from different 'wrong' groups, but rather with a bunch of equal groups trying to make sense of the stories and experiences they've heard or had.

Now imagine this: a unity achieved through recognition of similarities of belief and/or purpose and discussion of differences rather than a forced exodus of heretics whose only crime is that they disagree with you.

A few weeks ago I decided that a good question for all of us to ask ourselves in the midst of our theological squabbles is this: 'But how does it serve God and others?'

Wanna argue TULIP? Fine. How does it help you serve?

Wanna put up an apologetic about the Bible's inerrancy? Be my guest. How does it help you serve?

Wanna post a list of Biblical contradictions? Great. How does it help you serve?

Or is there any serving going on?

What's the point of better understanding or professing a faith that doesn't challenge or inspire you to do anything? Is it just all about spotting the guy who's thinking wrong? Maybe some small sense of satisfaction that you have helped strike down one who is in error (in truth and love, of course)?

If our primary calling was to spend hours arguing and sending the weaker debater home, the church would be strong in faith statements and bookshelves that would make a lawyer jealous and short on relevance.

Of course, maybe that's why so many are laughing at us already.

Truths, 'Tis, and Time off

To my shock, awe, and delight, I found myself listed in a site's sidebar. It always feels good to know that someone thought you worth reading enough to make such an endorsement, but this particular site is a little different. I don't know that I've ever really talked about UCCTruths here before. My own definition of the site is that of watchdog...in particular, listening to and reading statements made by UCC offices at the national, conference, and association level, first questioning their accuracy (usually information-wise), whether statements are justice-oriented (and for whom), and then how representative of the denomination they truly are. As with any blog or website in general, we agree and disagree depending on the issue. All in all, I have found them an important source for information.

So a special welcome to those who find their way here from UCCTruths. My space here is a little bit of everything. You might not find what you're looking for in terms of a wealth of UCC-specific issues...at least in terms of anything beyond the local level. The biggest concentration of material might be found in the June and July archives. I was a Synod delegate. Enjoy.

I started 'Tis by Frank McCourt last night. You may know the name from Angela's Ashes. This memoir is fairly quick reading, and I've already encountered one anecdote that has caused me to think, 'Wasn't that in Ashes...?' With some reluctance, I admit that I've only seen the movie. Now I am realizing that I should have read Ashes first, because it apparently happened first. Ashes is about McCourt's childhood in Limerick, Ireland, and 'Tis starts as he is coming back to New York.

Finally, after a busy and productive Advent and Christmas, I started a week's vacation today. That either means that I'll be writing much more or much less. It always seems to be one or the other.