Pop Culture Roundup

I've finished New Seeds of Contemplation, the last 50 pages of which, I'll admit, I just skimmed. I like Merton's thoughts, but he tends to repeat his ideas. The book is overall a decent read (I have the page flags to prove it), when he's not spending three chapters on variations of the same idea. There are also some chapters focused on Catholic doctrine that I didn't reasonate with, although it was interesting to hear his take.

I began
To Kill a Mockingbird last night, which I've never read. This is part of my 'stay away from theology books' season. In fact, I'm making a note to myself right now that next year for Lent I'm giving up theology books. But I digress. The first chapter is a little slow, but then we get more into the story. Honestly, at this point I'm trying to figure out if the narrator is white or black. I have little to no knowledge of this book's plot, other than that there are a couple kids and a black man who goes on trial for rape. Her statements about observing white people make me think that she's black, but her explanation that she comes from a lawyer's family make me think that, for the time period in which it is set, she might be white. Maybe it has nothing to do with the plot, or maybe it has everything to do with the plot.

We're watching
Angel Season 4, which includes more episodes that I've seen on TV. Remember how, when I've talked about the later seasons of Buffy, I mention that all Dawn is good for is storming off camera and being moody? Well, in Angel we now have Connor. He's a little more integral to the plot and has some fighting skillz~!, but his brooding gets tiresome. And the past season and a half or so has brought out the Wesley that I like: darker, more sure of himself, more of an edge. He's an inspiration to those who just got their first pair of glasses ever.

And of course
The Sopranos was Sunday night. If you haven't seen it yet, don't read this paragraph. Tony wakes up, but not before a near-death experience that features Steve Buscemi. The dream sequences were interesting, sometimes slow, but it was pretty easy to pick up on most of the symbolism, especially when Tony is walking toward the party in the house.

This week, I've been listening to my
Relix samplers, which feature Ratdog, Umphrey's McGee, Frank Zappa, and Derek Trucks Band, among others. If you like 'jamband' music, subscribe to the magazine and you get one free in every issue.

Around the web,
Greg offers a critique on Marcus Borg.

System Failure

I am giving up any attempt at creating a systematic theology.

I actually think that I did this long ago, but I'm finally admitting it to myself.

Allow me to explain what I mean by 'systematic' theology. Imagine a jigsaw puzzle, with pieces fitting perfectly into one another to form a complete picture. Imagine that these pieces all have words written on them: 'God,' 'Christ,' 'salvation,' 'Bible,' 'heaven,' 'Holy Spirit,' and so on. Each contributes to a larger graphic that each can't capture on its own.

Now imagine that one day, you pick up the piece marked 'Christ,' take a pair of scissors, and cut around the edges to form a new shape. It no longer fits into the old puzzle with the other pieces the way they are. Your next task, then, is to take your scissors and re-shape every other piece immediately around the 'Christ' piece, which in turn affect the other pieces around them, and so on. Soon, you end up with a whole new puzzle...until you decide to re-shape your 'Bible' piece. Then it's back to square one. Every piece has to harmonize with the others, or the larger picture can't be formed.

That's a systematic theology. Everything is in harmony, everything fits together to its logical end. All the edges need to be formed just right.

So why have I given up on such an approach? A couple reasons, actually. They might not all fit into this one space.

First, who am I, one of two billion people on this planet which is one planet in a universe beyond my comprehension, to say that my system in all its profound logic and well-reasoned conclusions, explains that universe and its Creator? My authoritative text is a series of stories ranging from 2,000 to 6,000 years old. I sit here on this swirling rock making my calculations, present them to be studied and accepted as perfectly logical and definitive, a billion years behind me and a billion years ahead. I hope that you can see the problem here.

Second, Jesus doesn't offer a system beyond 'Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.' He has a few things to say about himself, about God, about the Holy Spirit, about the kingdom, but nothing that rivals Calvin's Institutes or Barth's Dogmatics. His system is not one of is and ts dotted and crossed to be studied. It is a life to be considered and lived. He was too busy yelling at an ambitious Zaccheus to come down from his tree, too busy affirming the woman with the jar of ointment, too busy looking upon a young rich man with compassion and pity, and too busy forgiving a despondent Peter by the lakeside. When would he have had time to do those things if he'd preoccupied himself with questions of predestination, determinism, and dispensations? We silly people want to figure out relationships between concepts and Jesus is concerned with relationships between people and God.

I embrace a narrative theology nowadays. Imagine our puzzle, completed. It's a California boardwalk filled with people. A woman and two kids are getting ice cream at a kiosk. Two young lovers stop to admire the ocean, their arms around each other. A group of guys play frisbee on the sand. A group of retired men play chess in the shade. Study each scene within a scene and wonder at their thoughts and actions. Muse on their relationship to one another. Give thanks for their existence and pray that they know love and make love known. Consider each of their stories and how it relates to God's story. What can be learned from each?

I read of Jesus' relationships and think that there must be something to learned there. What do his actions reveal of the One who called us into life? What do his strange off-kilter stories about tax collectors and Pharisees, Samaritans, and estranged sons say about God's story and our roles in it?

I don't bother with cutting up puzzles any more. It takes too much of my time. Instead I want to let the pieces fit on their own while I go help my wife in the kitchen, go visit a sick woman in the hospital, go have coffee with an old friend. I put down my scissors and instead lift prayers for Darfur, grieve over Bagdad, rant at the Middle East, and wonder how neighborhoods closer to home could use a lot more love and attention.

I long to draw near to God, who transcends my puny attempts to understand. I follow Jesus, who thwarts my intellectual jumping jacks with a story of exercising love and forgiveness, and who might admonish me to leave the angels to take their own head count while they dance on their pin.

Church Hog-Ties Intruder

Hat tip to Wesley Blog for this tidbit:

Parishioners fed up with a string of burglaries at their West Palm Beach church took matters into their own hands by capturing and hog-tying a man who climbed in through a window early this morning.

Armed with baseball bats, members of the Church of Nazarene at 5312 Broadway spent the night in the building to guard it.

At about 1 this morning, a man broke in. Church members were waiting for him inside. They beat him with their bats and tied him up with tape.

Police identified the burglary suspect as Ralph Thomas.

Thomas was treated at a local hospital and charged with burglary and possession of burglary tools.

An accomplice got away, police said

Wow. My first reaction is from the depths of my id, where I cheer the church members for doing this and laugh at the man for thinking he could get away with repeated break-ins. But my more reasonable side takes a second look and, while I'm glad he's been arrested, wonder about the use of bats beyond subduing him. I guess you need a way to take him down, and asking nicely probably wasn't going to work.

So which is worse...stealing or using violence to help capture a thief?

What would Luke's Jesus say? Love your enemies and do good to those who do you wrong. But he'd also condemn stealing, perhaps even suggest that thinking about stealing is the same as the act. He cleared the Temple of thieves, drove them out in anger.

I can love my enemy while turning him in for stealing from me. It's the difference between retributive justice (the focus of which is revenge and the enjoyment of 'watching him rot in prison') and restorative justice (the focus of which is rehabilitating criminals so that they refrain from acting in such a way again). Justice without force is impotent; force without justice is tyranny. I read that in an ethics book a while back (Eden alums take note...I retained something).

So what's the answer in the case of the above? I give the church members the benefit of the doubt in showing restraint, yet doing what they had to do to catch their perp. Such a brief account doesn't parse out the severity of 'beat with bats.' If they took it too far, that's on them. If they took cheap shots or intended to cause injury, that's on them. But past instances of stealing and intent to steal again is on Mr. Thomas.

Following Jesus three-dimensionally is a little more complicated.

Pop Culture Roundup

I've been reading Thomas Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation, which has been one of the most enjoyable and thought-provoking books I've read so far this year. It's a work of theology, but it's far from systematic. It's more a work of spirituality and reflection on true and false selves (I'll be using this piece in my sermon on Sunday). He writes of the difference between the self that God has created, the self that God loves and calls us to be with our unique gifts and identity, and the false self of our own creation that serves our own desires and relies on addictions, possessions, and the opinions of others to give us a sense of value. It ties in beautifully with Ephesians 2:1-10, and pretty much all of what Jesus said.

We've been watching Angel Season 3, which really seems to be when the series comes into its own. The big difference between Buffy and Angel is that Angel is one continuous story over seasons: still battling Wolfram and Hart, still dealing with Darla, still questioning the Powers That Be, and so on. With Buffy, there's a different focus each season with passing comments to what came before it.

And of course, The Sopranos was on. This seemed to be a lower-key episode, but there was a tremendous amount of plot and character development. Carmella has an Emmy-worthy scene at Tony's bedside, the crew is starting to get antsy with each other and starting to make plays for power, and AJ is going to have a huge season. Tony has a strange dream sequence that seems to deal with the afterlife.

This week it's been The Flaming Lips, Matisyahu, Ratdog, and Radiohead.

Around the web, i.ucc, the UCC's newest online community, is up and running. It looks like a UCC.org/StillSpeaking/UCNews hybrid, except it's for hipsters. Or something.

Quotidian Ramblings

I've been sucked back into watching American Idol this year. A more accurate description is, I like being in the same room as my wife in the evenings, so I'll read or journal or work out while she watches American Idol...and I end up picking my favorites. I've deemed Chris Daughtry this year's winner. He's basically this year's Bo Bice, only cooler. He reminds me of Ed Kowalczyk, the lead singer of Live.

Anyway, that brings me to last night's vote, which (finally) saw the departure of Kevin Covais, this awkward 16-year-old kid who would do much better in his high school show choir. On the radio the other day, Simon was quoted as saying, 'He won't win, but if he does I'm quitting.' Indeed.

I haven't said as much as I'd like about my Lenten series, besides that the content can be a downer. Before Lent began I said that I'd write an entry for each week's text, which obviously hasn't happened. In the next few days, I'll get around to doing that. Last night's text was Judges 19, the story of the Levite and the concubine that has many parallels to the story of Sodom. This was a lively discussion, with almost the entire room appalled at the Levite's actions and wondering out loud how a story like this ended up in the Bible. These are the types of reactions and questions that I was hoping for in this study. My favorite response last night was when one parishioner said, 'This just shows me that I need to read my Bible more...I had no idea this story was in here.' Jackpot!

Next week is Numbers 25:1-16, the story of Phinehas killing an interracial couple with a spear. I haven't settled on the final week's text, but it'll either be a genocide story from Joshua or one of the juicy parts from Song of Solomon. I'm leaning toward the latter just to lighten the mood.

I'm going back and forth about writing under my real name again. It's not like it's a big secret. If you go back through the archives, you could find it pretty easily. A fair amount of people who read this (well...up until 3 days ago) already know it. Originally, it was to help keep a distance between the rest of my life and this blog, but those lines are blurring more and more. That's not to say that this blog is my life. Rather, the blogosphere and the internet in general is a separate world for me. But I really don't see what'll really change.

Who I Am

This overblown commercial 'controversy' has brought a lot of people to this space the past few days.

Some may question my motives. Some may question my alliances. Some may see this, that, or the other group mentioned and jump to certain conclusions. Allow me to lay it out so that no mistakes are made.

I was born into the United Church of Christ. That makes me a 27-year member. My father is a UCC minister. My mother is the youth director at a UCC church. I've attended UCC churches my whole life, was baptized in one, was confirmed in another. I was married in a Baptist church...to accomodate the guests.

I am a graduate of Heidelberg College, a UCC-affiliated school with a Reformed background.

I am a graduate of Eden Seminary, a UCC-affiliated school with an Evangelical background.

I've been a delegate to General Synod twice. I've served as a counselor at Templed Hills and Pilgrim Hills, the UCC camps of the Ohio Conference. I participated in a UCC-affiliated campus ministry at Heidelberg. I participate in Association and Conference meetings, and various committees at the Association level.

At the end of this month, I will have been ordained in the UCC for a year and two months. I have been serving a UCC church for a year and four months. I plan on serving the local church of the UCC for as long as I feel called to do so.

I am not, formally or informally, affiliated with Biblical Witness Fellowship or the Faithful and Welcoming movement. I voted for the equal marriage rights resolution. I voted against divestment. I would vote against the Iraq war if it were up to me. I can't bring myself to say that I'm pro-choice, but recognize instances when abortion may be necessary. I would vote in favor of stem-cell research. I voted for the 'Jesus is Lord' resolution, even though I thought it was unnecessary. I like the bouncer ad and the steeple ad. I don't like the ejector seat ad.

I love God. I love Jesus. I say the UCC Statement of Faith with reverence and awe. I believe that love of God and love of neighbor are the essential teachings of Jesus, and should be essentials in the church. I don't believe the Bible is inerrant, but I believe that the Holy Spirit is living and active through it. I believe that God is still speaking, but think that the slogan is overused. I believe that Jesus calls us to action and not just belief. I believe that faith without works is dead. I believe that force-feeding a belief in God--through the pledge or through displaying a big rock with the 10 Commandments on it--will not make this nation any more 'Christian.' I believe that a church, any church, should state what it is, rather than what it is not. I believe in covenant and autonomy.

This commercial BS doesn't state who I am, and this entry only begins to do so.

Welcome to Philosophy Over Coffee.

And that's the last word on the subject.

And they tell two friends...and they tell two friends...

I don't mean to harp on this commercial thing, so hopefully this will be my last post on the subject for a little while.

UCCNews has responded to UCCTruths' article about the commercial, which borrows heavily from my post below:

A website known for its negative critiques of the UCC’s National and Conference settings has published a description of the UCC’s newest national TV ad, a full week before church leaders were planning to release the new ad publicly at a press conference scheduled for March 27 in Cleveland.

On March 20, , which said it possessed a copy of the UCC’s new ad, posted a description of the commercial, along with critical comments and an unflattering still-image "video grab" which gives a false impression of the tone of the UCC’s newest commercial – known as “ejector seat” – especially its treatment of persons with disabilities.


In an email to at 7 p.m. (ET) on March 20, Stillspeaking Coordinator Ron Buford appealed to the site to not publish the ad until the scheduled March 27 release date.

“We have only given the ad to people who have promised to keep it within the UCC until the press conference,” Buford wrote. “Whoever released this to you has borne false witness, either directly or by omission. I do not believe you want to proceed with material you have received in this way.”

On Tuesday morning, responded to Buford, saying that it had no plans to run the ad in its entirety at this time.

In December, United Church News consented to a request by Buford and others to embargo all descriptions of the ad until the March 27 public release. However, along with , United Church News has subsequently learned that at least one major news source – Sojourners Magazine – was provided an accurate description of the ad, which it discussed in its Jan.-Feb. issue, along with quotes attributed to Buford.

UCCTruths gets the blame for something that was posted here before that, which was posted on the UCC forums before that, which was posted on sojo.net before that. There's something wrong with this picture.

The leak was not their fault. I take responsibility for my critique (why wouldn't I...it's mine) which was included on the site, but the description of the ad comes from Sojourners and, consequently, Ron Buford himself (or someone who 'attributes' quotes to Buford).

I'm still wondering how this commercial's target audience--those who have had it with institutionalized church due to discrimination and rejection--would find this ad 'whimsical.' Can one really picture a black person, for instance, watching this ad, seeing his or her black archetype flying through the air, and saying, 'Haha, that's me.' It seems more like an inside joke than a form of outreach.

Who cares if the content has been leaked at this point? There are more important ad-related issues to deal with than that.

Lenten Midpoint

Lent is really turning out to drag me down.

Lectio divina isn't it. It's one of the bright spots of my day. So no complaints there.

It's how I've been handling it otherwise.

As I mentioned a while back, I've been leading a program on Wednesdays called Bible Stories You Won't Learn in Children's Church. The first week, we talked about marriage and sex. Last week we talked about revenge with some segways to war. This week we talk about rape. The week after, racism. The week after that, probably more war.

Sunday mornings have seen a preaching series on the cross: how it's a comfort, challenge, commentary...and the next two weeks an invitation and revelation. How many weeks in a row can you force yourself to talk about suffering and death with a slightly different focus?

Maybe 'drag me down' isn't the right phrase. Maybe 'has been very intense and draining.' Maybe it's the same thing and I just like one expression over another.

At Easter there comes release. Release from this sermon series. Release from these intense programs. New life. Which is what Easter is about. The issues we raise don't go away, but at least they can be tackled in ways other than how I've set it up during the course of these six weeks.

And we'll finish our Habitat house.
And we'll walk in the Relay for Life.
And the snowbirds will return.
And there'll be baptisms and new members.

I may look back on this time, glad that we spent time talking about what we did.

I hope I do. Because at some level it's some of the most important material we've talked about since I started here.

Time to settle down for the night.

Sure...Why Not?

All right, so in this little game you're supposed to hit 'Shuffle' on your media player, and as you ask each question, you hit play. The title of whatever song comes up is the answer. The scary thing is, most of these end up making some sense. Thanks to Beth for helping me waste 10 minutes.

How does the world see you? Lullabye (Good Night my Angel) - Billy Joel

Will I have a happy life? Coming Back to Life - Pink Floyd

What do my friends really think of me? Alabi - dc Talk

Do people secretly lust after me? You Got Lucky - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

How can I make myself happy? One More Robot - Flaming Lips

What should I do with my life? Into Jesus - dc Talk

Will I ever have children? The Engine Driver - The Decemberists

What is some good advice for me? Time Waits - Widespread Panic

How will I be remembered? Goodbye, Goodnight - Jars of Clay

What is my signature dancing song? Common Riddle - The Insyderz

What do I think my current theme song is? Split Open and Melt - Phish

What does everyone else think my current theme song is? Perfect Shelter - Gov't Mule

What song will play at my funeral? Gone - Jack Johnson

What type of men/women do you like? Hope - Disco Biscuits

What is my day going to be like? Tremendous Brunettes - Mike Doughty

Pop Culture Roundup

This past week I read Choke by Chuck Palahniuk. He's also the author of Fight Club, if that gives you a point of reference. It's a novel about a man named Victor who pays the bills for his mother by pretending to choke on food in restaurants and then mooching off his 'saviors.' The book touches on some great themes such as addiction, illusions of goodness and independence, and what we think we know about people. Expect it to be satire in the same vein as Fight Club, right down to disregard for convention. Now I'm about 60 pages into Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. At first it seemed kind of scatterbrained (which fits my experience of Vonnegut in general), but now we've settled into a narrative.

We finished Buffy Season 6 this week, and I maintain last week's 'shark-jumping' comment. Spike gets his soul back at the very end. We've never had a storyline featuring a vampire with a soul before. No, never. And all Dawn contributed to this season was storming off to her room a lot. I've seen part of Season 7, and from what I remember it gets better again. We're on to Angel Season 3, which means we have to go back through some Buffy mourning and then continue battling Wolfram & Hart. And, of course, I watched the first episode of The Sopranos Season 6 last Sunday. It was fairly slow-going, and then the end happened, which caused me to sit straight up on the couch and scare the cat. I won't share anything in case someone still hasn't seen it who wants to be surprised. And you will be.

Music-wise, it's been a pretty eclectic week. A little Phish, a little Relient K, the soundtrack to Last Temptation of Christ (featured during our Maundy Thursday service again this year), and a couple Relix sampler CDs.

Without Authority has been added to the bloglist.

Description of New UCC Commercial Leaked

Thanks to sojo.net by way of the UCC forums...

Many mainline churches see multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns as the latest evangelistic tool, but none hit the news like the “God is Still Speaking” campaign from the United Church of Christ—in part because major TV networks classified the ads as “advocacy” spots and rejected them. The first series, aired on cable networks, showed gruff bouncers turning away select worshippers at the church door—including racial minorities and gay and lesbian couples—followed by the text “Jesus didn’t turn people away. Neither do we.” The newest ads, launched in November, show “unwelcome” minorities being shot out of church by ejector seats, accompanied by the text, “Jesus didn’t reject people.”

“These commercials are like modern parables,” campaign coordinator Ron Buford told Sojourners. “When people see these ads, they get it.” In fact, the ads won the Association of National Advertisers annual award for multicultural excellence. Buford is confident that future ads will build on this response, saying, “They will be funny, hard-hitting, and they will make the point.”

Ejector seats is Ron Buford's idea of 'whimsical.' I think it sounds silly. Not silly in a haha way either. Silly in an 'is this the best you could do?' kind of way.

I thought the bouncer ad worked because it spoke to people's experiences. This ad attempts to duplicate the communication of that experience, only, as Buford has said in other publications in a 'whimsical' way. A gay couple and a guy in a wheelchair being 'ejected' through the air is supposed to be the 'whimsical' part, but I doubt that anyone who has been ejected from a church in real life will see the ad and say, 'That's me!' Not while chuckling, anyway.

This ad is making light of the ejectee's experience, while the bouncer ad was seeking to take it seriously.

Why would the formerly churched laugh at this?

Name What No One Wants to Name

A young man sits alone in his room. A cot and an endtable are all the furniture he has. The walls are painted an institutional off-white that he stares at for hours. His only daily visitor is the nurse who brings him his medication. She smiles, trying to brighten his day. He half-heartedly returns the gesture.

Day in and day out he sits. His family doesn't come very often. They've become too busy. They hardly acknowledge that he's there. They don't have to deal with it any more. His friends have almost completely forgotten him, save for an after-work drink that always includes the phrase, 'It's a shame, what's going on...'

Then one day, a young woman visits. They'd known each other from high school. Hadn't spoken much, but she'd heard about him.

She comes, aware of the time she's taking away from her own family.

She comes, aware of what her friends may think if they find out she's visited.

She comes, aware of the dishes in the sink, the laundry in the hamper, the bills that have to be paid.

She comes, aware of how the media portrays what he has. News stories sensationalize it. TV dramas exploit the juiciest parts.

She comes and sits across from him, looking into his eyes. For the first time in quite a while, they show signs of color and life.


"If I affirm myself as a Catholic merely by denying all that is Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist, etc., in the end I will find that there is not much left for me to affirm as a Catholic: and certainly no breath of the Spirit with which to affirm it." - Thomas Merton

Rediscovering Jesus

This lectio divina thing has been working out really well.

I'm in the middle of chapter 10 of the Gospel of Luke, and am meeting Jesus again for the...5th or 6th time. I thought about whether to use that cheap allusion to Borg and figured what the hell.

It's been refreshing to get my nose out of books about the Gospels and actually into the Gospels, books about the Bible and actually into the Bible, blogs about stories about Jesus and into the stories about Jesus.

I'm coming away with a different picture...again. It seems that every time I pick up the Gospels, I do.

But this has been building for a while, and what is building up is starting to be affirmed, to solidify, to take shape.

I'm letting the pre-Easter Jesus inform what the post-Easter Christ really wants.

I'm letting him say for himself what salvation requires (except his references to salvation are few...he likes talking about forgiveness). I'm letting him say for himself what things like faith and love are. I'm letting him say for himself who he is.

Yeah, these aren't pure accounts of what he did and said. Around Luke chapter 5, Herod 'tries' to see Jesus after hearing about him. A freaking king TRIES to get an audience with a nobody healer? Then there's the mess of Luke's geneology vs. Matthew, how stories change from Gosel to Gospel, what sort of bias was edited into the stories and all that. I recognize that, but to read these accounts is to have what we ourselves have edited in or out put into question. Why this but not this? Why that but not that other thing?

Try matching up Luke's Jesus vs. Paul's. There are some similarities, but would Jesus agree with Paul on his proposal that belief in the resurrection is your key to heaven? Jesus says in Luke 6:46 (quickly becoming a favorite): 'Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' but do not do what I tell you?' There's this whole thing about love of God and neighbor that gets you eternal life.

Jesus isn't much for sentimental Hallmark sayings either. 'Let the dead bury their dead.' 'Take up your cross.' 'Get behind me, Satan!'

There's no radical grace, although there is invitation to follow and a welcome of sinners that scandalized the high-and-mighty types.

There's no creedal litmus test, although there is that call to love and a word about welcoming Jesus and his disciples being equivalent to welcoming God. At one point he even says, 'whoever is not against you is for you.'

There's no prudish behavior on Jesus' part. He goes to parties, drinks wine, allows a 'sinful' woman to wash his feet with her tears.

This Lenten journey has been liberating so far. Put away the scholarship, the Pauline interpretation, statements of faith, and just read what the Gospel communities experienced and passed on.

It's also been scary, because the true weight of what Jesus wants is sinking in. There's only so much rationalization one can do in the face of some of the stuff he says.

I'll be moving to Mark next if I run out before Easter. I'll see what else he has to say.

I Write About Satan

I mentioned Satan today during my sermon. The lectionary suggests Mark 8:31-38 as the text, so I talked about Satan being a symbol of all that is against God, all that opposes what God wants. Someone got real excited about it: 'I wondered where Satan was. That's the first time you've ever talked about him!' Maybe that's an integral part of her theology and she finally felt affirmed...or she wondered why a Christian preacher doesn't talk about Satan very often. Either way, apparently I satiated something within her.

For me, the jury is still out on whether I would designate Satan as a being, as more than a symbol. Of course, this comes from someone who believes in God and ghosts, so it would be a disconnect for me to simply write Satan off as a superstitious concept constructed by ancient people. In the Bible, Satan evolves from a test administrator on a leash in Job to a tempter and inspiration for betrayal in the Gospels to the unholy enemy of the church in Revelation (an argument could be made that this last one is meant to symbolize Rome). Satan is an adversary in all of these instances, but in the theological contexts of Job and the Gospels, his adversarial deeds serve a greater purpose that God has planned out. In Revelation, God's purpose is to destroy him. Popular Evangelical theology has based its concept of Satan entirely around Revelation's view: an evil conniving 'ruler of this world' who, depending on who you talk to, is responsible for all human suffering in an attempt to destroy faith and send people to hell where, depending on who you talk to, he himself will poke you with his trident.

For the time being, I am satisfied with what I presented this morning: Satan represents all that opposes God's ways. This is why Jesus uses the term to yell at Peter. Peter has set his mind on human things rather than divine things, his own way of thinking rather than God's. That could be labeled Satanic.

I suppose that, if one was so inclined, one could label that tiny voice in one's head egging you on to do what best suits you, reminding you that others will think less of you if you say or act a certain way, pushing you to turn your attention back to hording what you can rather than giving to one with need as the voice of Satan. One could just as easily call it human nature, our 'survival instinct,' some therapeutic speech about 'comfort zones' and 'safe spaces' and 'being in the right mindset.' So, then...could one label that other tiny voice egging you on to look beyond yourself, pushing you to turn your attention to giving to one with need, reassuring you not to care about others' opinions as something other than God, perhaps an innate sense of morality, our 'communal instinct,' some therapeutic speech about 'pushing your comfort zones' and 'doing what's right' and any number of things that Oprah and Doctor Phil talk about every day? With these questions come the concepts of sin, redemption, forgiveness, faith, and the Holy Spirit among others. If one is just a superstition, why might these others be called something else?

Satan has evolved, Biblically speaking. So has God. In the New Testament, Jesus moves from teacher/healer in the Gospels to resurrected Christ in Paul to divine avenger in Revelation. The argument that one isn't real because the Bible can't get its story straight puts others' existence into question as well.

So where's that leave us with Satan? As I mentioned earlier, while I haven't settled on whether he's a real being, there are plenty of agents and actions that could be called Satanic: oppression, selfishness, obsession with status and power, love of money, discrimination, bigotry, false piety, and a host of others. Whatever that voice is telling us to put these things ahead of what God wants, even helping us rationalize that these things ARE what God wants, it exists and it is against God.

Pop Culture Roundup

I started Seeds by Thomas Merton this week, but I didn't get very far. It's a collection of paragraphs from all his other books. I'd rather read one of those other books and get the full context and original intent of the work, rather than soundbites compiled under categories. What really attracted me to the book to begin with was the cover: it shows Merton in his full monk's garb with the sleeves rolled up and a baseball cap. Cool.

We saw
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the other week. A friend suggested that you really shouldn't compare it to the original, but I am, and I don't really like Johnny Depp's Wonka. He doesn't have the edge that Gene Wilder's Wonka had. I understand that they tried to give more of a backstory to why Wonka started the factory, but the original was more about the greed of the families and children. Wonka weeded them out because of that, not because he didn't want his successor to have a family to weigh him down.

I've still been digging Matisyahu.

So we've been watching
Buffy Season 6. Buffy died at the end of season 5, so the first thing they had to do was find a way to bring her back. The whole series has taken on a shark-jumping quality this season: Buffy making out with Spike, Giles leaving, the recurring enemies being three techno-nerds. With the exception of the musical episode, the whole thing seems like it's lost something. Or maybe it's just a bad season. There's one more to go after this, after all.

Around the web, check out Pandora. It's a really cool music service.

Pot and Kettle

“I think that provocative statements and actions only further isolate Iran from the rest of the world,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters traveling with President Bush to hurricane-affected states in the Gulf Coast.

The press secretary for this White House said that?


link here

'Where Should I Start?'

The other day I was asked by a regular attendee about books to introduce her to the Christian faith. I actually don't have many books that could be considered 'introductory' other than a few church history textbooks, so I went with books of the Bible instead.

So here's the question for my readership: what books of the Bible would you recommend to someone looking into Christian faith?

This is what I passed along to her...

The Gospel of Luke - Illustrates Jesus' purpose to 'bring good news to the poor...to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor...to proclaim the kingdom of God.' He tells a young man that love of God and neighbor leads to eternal life and follows up with a story about neighbors with a surprise ending. A story of forgiveness and grace is told about two sons and their father. Jesus is revealed in the breaking of bread to two downtrodden disciples. This Gospel is one of hope and challenge.

Philippians - Emphasizes Jesus' obedience and the strength we find as we seek to follow him.

James - 'Faith without works is dead.' 'Religion undefiled before God is to care for orphans and widows.' 'Even the demons believe, and shudder.' This is a letter about faith as reflected in action, not faith that leaves complacent. It is an extension of Luke's Jesus.

Honorable mentions that weren't mentioned are Exodus, with its story of learning what it means to be God's people, Micah with its commentary on what the Lord requires, and 1 John with its commentary on true love.

What...Nothing About Ash Wednesday?

I've been struggling this year with what to choose as a Lenten discipline. For those unfamiliar with the practice, it is a tradition during the season of Lent (40 days and 6 Sundays before Easter) to take on a discipline that helps to humble you and help you reflect on Jesus' suffering. Sometimes this involves being more intentional about prayer and study, sometimes this involves 'giving up' one of your favorite vices such as chocolate, soda, and so on. Through college and seminary, I relished this practice and wanted to make it mean something. A couple years in a row, I gave up television. One year I gave up the internet. I've given up fast food and alcohol a few times each. I've added a daily study before (something I've wanted to do outside of the Lenten season). One year I fasted every Wednesday.

Last year's Lenten practice didn't go so well. I started with the one-day-a-week fasting, but quickly lost my way. Then I decided to alter the fasting practice to only eat bread and vegetables (a way to identify with the poor, as dairy and meat are more expensive). That didn't last either. The season eventually got away from me discipline-wise, although it ended up being meaningful in other ways. I led a study on some of Jesus' parables and in general experienced my first year leading a church through the season.

Lent began on Wednesday, and a discipline still hadn't crystallized yet. We had a modest-sized worship service. I can't help but think that if a meal had been offered beforehand, people would have felt more incentive to come. The turnout is always better if you promise to feed people. It's like bribery via crockpot.

The service itself went well. It centered on the imposition of ashes. People came forward to Jars of Clay's Frail to receive them, heard from the prophet Joel as he admonished the people to 'rend your hearts and not your clothing' (one of my favorite Lenten texts), and saw the altar adorned with clay pots to remind them of their fragility. It lasted maybe a half hour. One or two felt the need to apologize for the small turnout, and I responded that I always look forward to the smaller evening services such as Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Blue Christmas. There's a different tone to them that one can't experience on Sunday morning. That and I get to be more creative with the liturgy. The people who don't like my 'contemporary' stylings just don't show up to the evening services.

Anyway, a Lenten discipline. I'm keeping it simple this year. Originally, the blog was going to go dark for six weeks. Ironically, I like blogging through Lent so much that I opted not to do that. Yes, I know. What I've settled on is the practice of lectio divina, the practice of reading through scripture and allowing yourself to be caught on a word or phrase. It's a lingering sort of reading where you may get a sentence in and then start meditating. I've chosen the Gospel of Luke as the book I'll be reading. As I work through it, I'll probably have an occasional entry here about it.


Missouri has quite an interesting bill being proposed:

Missouri legislators in Jefferson City considered a bill that would name Christianity the state's official "majority" religion.

House Concurrent Resolution 13 has is pending in the state legislature.

Many Missouri residents had not heard about the bill until Thursday.

Karen Aroesty of the Anti-defamation league, along with other watch-groups, began a letter writing and email campaign to stop the resolution.

The resolution would recognize "a Christian god," and it would not protect minority religions, but "protect the majority's right to express their religious beliefs.

The resolution also recognizes that, "a greater power exists," and only Christianity receives what the resolution calls, "justified recognition."

State representative David Sater of Cassville in southwestern Missouri, sponsored the resolution, but he has refused to talk about it on camera or over the phone.

KMOV also contacted Gov. Matt Blunt's office to see where he stands on the resolution, but he has yet to respond.

Hat tip to some old friends for the text of the bill:

Whereas, our forefathers of this great nation of the United States recognized a Christian God and used the principles afforded to us by Him as the founding principles of our nation; and

Whereas, as citizens of this great nation, we the majority also wish to exercise our constitutional right to acknowledge our Creator and give thanks for the many gifts provided by Him; and

Whereas, as elected officials we should protect the majority's right to express their religious beliefs while showing respect for those who object; and

Whereas, we wish to continue the wisdom imparted in the Constitution of the United States of America by the founding fathers; and

Whereas, we as elected officials recognize that a Greater Power exists above and beyond the institutions of mankind:

Now, therefore, be it resolved by the members of the House of Representatives of the Ninety-third General Assembly, Second Regular Session, the Senate concurring therein, that we stand with the majority of our constituents and exercise the common sense that voluntary prayer in public schools and religious displays on public property are not a coalition of church and state, but rather the justified recognition of the positive role that Christianity has played in this great nation of ours, the United States of America.

'Protect the majority's right?' If you're the majority, you do what you want to do. When will American Christians realize that they aren't victims of religious oppression in this country? If you think that the removal of a big display of the 10 Commandments and the absence of imposed prayer in school constitutes religious oppression, you're sadly mistaken. There are no lion pits any more. The First Amendment guarantees us all freedom of expression.

Want to make your state 'more Christian?' Feed the poor. Ask why your state is one of the most pathetic at funding mental health in the country. Protect minorities instead of trying to keep your power spot. That's idolatry and nothing less.

If Christians actually spent time and energy following Jesus instead of whining about their inferiority complex, we'd all be a lot better off.

Pop Culture Roundup

I finished 1984 the other day, one of the best and scariest books I've read so far this year. It's one of those books that is so well-known that you already know the basic plot, but then to read it for yourself and see how exactly we get from beginning to end is still needed. Winston works for the Party, the government and propaganda machine of Oceania. It's a fascist state that removes 'heretics' from society and breaks them down until they love the Party. The scenes during which the Party's tactics are revealed are particularly disturbing. They govern through fear and the perpetuation of hatred for dissenters and non-Oceanites. It could be considered satire if it were funny. Perhaps a better word is prophecy.

Lately I've been listening to Matisyahu and Phish. There are similarities...somehow...maybe. They both feel good, they're both upbeat. They both have long hair. They both talk about love.

We finished Buffy Season 5, which was pretty much a downer from beginning to end. I was told that this was originally supposed to be the last season until thousands of fans wrote angry Buffy withdrawal letters and the show got put back on. So it worked for her, but no bowing to angry Angel withdrawal letters? On a more exciting TV note, The Sopranos returns March 12 for its last season. It looks like Johnny Sack being in jail doesn't mean the end of Tony's problems. This should be good.

Around the web, LutheranChik reflects on the practice of examen, which I find helpful as I seek a Lenten practice.