Monday, April 30, 2007
I don't want to do it any more.
In fact, I'm so sick of writing that I'm writing this to tell you how much I'm sick of writing.
I'm using this medium to communicate to you how sick I am of using this medium to communicate how sick I am of this medium. And of communicating. With this medium.
It's time to let this blog go and never come back.
Except I will check in from time to time just to make sure that the blog doesn't disappear. I did have some good stuff on here, in my opinion.
But no more new stuff. No. No more. This is the last new stuff that I do.
This will be the last word that I write.
Except "this" wasn't the last word that I wrote.
Now "is" is.
Now "'is' is" is.
Except those were the last two words that I wrote.
Now "wrote" is again.
Now "was" was.
But anyway, no more writing. I'm sick of it.
I'm gone. Forever.
Not physically. Or metaphysically. Just blog-aphysically.
I made up a word just now.
I'm sick of making up new words.
I just want to use the same old crappy ones.
And I'm just going to say them. No more writing them. Because I'm sick of writing.
So no more, starting now.
Or right after I post this.
Or after I'm done answering comments from people who want me to stay. Or after I'm done arguing with people who leave comments saying how much they're glad I'm done. Yeah, after I'm done writing about how dumb they are, I'm done.
So done. So very done. Absolutely done. Unequivocally done, done, and really done.
I hope that my writing this showed you how sick I am of writing.
If it didn't, you'll see soon enough.
And if you still don't, I'm going to keep writing until you do.
And then after that I'll stop.
I took a vacation week the week before last. That's why I was able to churn out all those Synod posts. I didn't go anywhere. I was just due. No more Lent, no more confirmation. It was time.
Okay, here's the thing about me taking vacation lately. I took a week last October, which was meant to be a General Relaxation Week like this last one. It never really got going because a church member died, so I became involved with everything that went along with that. No problem...I made up the time.
This past January I took a most excellent vacation to New Jersey to see family and spend a few hours in New York City. I was standing in Central Park when I learned that I had another funeral scheduled. I didn't have to cut anything short, I would just be back in time to officiate it.
This most recent vacation week, guess what happened. This time, it was our oldest member...she would have been 102 in July. I would have felt very sorry if I had missed this one. She was one of our saints. Really. Again, I made up the time this past week.
Still...I might develop a complex. For a church this size, it's an unusual thing for member deaths to line up like that. I'd imagine that at bigger churches, that's not so strange. More members, more funerals, and some are bound to come during vacation weeks. Here, we have maybe three a year. Since last October we've had four deaths, three of which have come while I've been on vacation. That's not a very good pace set for this year already, either.
Okay, let's talk about something else. My one cat loves to slip outside whenever the door is open long enough. This morning, he had some pretty big ambitions. He sprinted toward a tree and made it halfway up the trunk before he realized he has no front claws. But he quickly regrouped and raced toward another tree to try again--way too freaking close to the busy county road, I might add--and achieved the same result. It was at that moment that a car raced by, causing his tail to swell to comical proportions as he ran back toward the house to hide in a bush. Mrs. Jeff was able to easily scoop him up and carry him back inside. The real tragedy here is that he's probably already forgotten about the whole thing and will try again later.
The past few years, I've complained about how slow and boring summer is. I no longer feel that way. I welcome the change in pace and the opportunity to do some different things. And I will. Oh yes...I will.
Sunday, April 29, 2007
U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.), an active UCC member since 1988, has accepted an invitation to speak at UCC General Synod 26, June 22-26, in Hartford, Conn.
Obama — a member of the 10,000-member Trinity UCC in Chicago — will speak to delegates and visitors during a special day-long "Synod in the City" event on Saturday, June 23, at the Hartford Civic Center.
Gathering to commemorate the denomination's 50th anniversary milestone, Obama joins an impressive line-up of prominent presenters during the five-day General Synod that includes journalist Bill Moyers, activist Marian Wright Edelman, preacher Peter Gomes, actress Lynn Redgrave, author Marilynne Robinson and more.
The occasion will mark the historical 1957 union of the Congregational Christian Churches in America and the Evangelical and Reformed Church, the first ecumenical marriage of unrelated Christian denominations in U.S. history.
Obama, a Democratic candidate for President, has spoken often about his profession of faith, his membership in the socially progressive UCC and the need for Democrats to take seriously the concerns of religious Americans.
The rest of the story here.
I've read that there is some concern that this is walking the thin line between church and state. As a UCC member, there is no reason that Obama couldn't attend the 50th anniversary of his denomination. I suppose that what changes things for people is his presidential bid: will he just be there to celebrate with the UCC, or will he use opportunities? If it weren't for that, no one would care.
I'm also going to get my copy of Gilead signed. Sweet.
Friday, April 27, 2007
1. Wearing - Jeans and my "Evil Skull Tattoo Shop" t-shirt. And I've been wearing my Detroit hat off and on as well.
2. Pondering - "American Idol" bothered me in a way similar to the blogger quoted below. Even before that, however, I've lately been pondering how to incorporate more mission work into my life, as well as to continue emphasizing it where I serve. I know of a few opportunities, including a trip to New Orleans being put together in early fall by my Association.
3. Reading - Not much besides other blogs at the moment. I have Anne Lamott's new book in my possession, but haven't started it yet. Maybe later this evening when I go get coffee.
4. Dreaming - Not sure what sort of dreaming is meant here. I dream of getting away, like really getting away. I'll get to do that soon.
5. Eating - On a general level, I'm getting back on the wagon as far as watching what I eat, so more salads, grilled chicken, fruit, yogurt, stuff like that. But also peanut butter cups. I love me some peanut butter cups.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
So this morning, we're talking about poverty on the radio. Of course, American Idol's special put it on the agenda, so I go with it.
"You know, sure would be a shame if American Idol talks more about the starving, the diseased in Africa, than the churches in America. Sure would be a shame if American Idol put something on the radar screen that we didn't. Sure would be a shame if there are churches in Africa with HIV-positive people, and not enough money for ARV drugs, and they have to wait for American Idol. That would be ironic."
Then a very earnest, caller: "Well, American churches are doing everything they can to fight poverty in Africa."
Everything we can?
Caller: Yes. But we're called to take care of our own first.
Caller: Well, you gotta understand: There's only so much money, and it's really expensive to try to offer the programs we need to lure the world into our buildings. It's very, very expensive, and there's not going to be much left.
And now, the latest from Relient K...
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
In the first, I visited Rob Bell's church in Grand Rapids. I've never actually been there, and it was obvious to me even in the dream that it wasn't really Mars Hill. I know this because we were meeting in a house rather than a converted mall. But Rob did make an appearance, and he. Talked. Just like. He does. In his podcasts.
The setup in the house was kind of cool. We certainly weren't in a megachurch, but people were milling around, setting up chairs in the living room all facing the same direction. And there was food in the kitchen including a huge pile of chicken wings. No one seemed to be in a hurry to get started...we ate, talked, hung out. There was never actually a worship service in my dream, though. The gathering in general seemed very organic, with a special emphasis on fellowship and hospitality. And it was quite clear throughout this dream that this was somehow a church, not just a social gathering.
The second dream was much shorter. I was playing guitar at the church I serve, and we sang "Alleluia" over and over to the tune of Pachelbel's Canon. I've never made that connection before, awake or asleep. It's been stuck in my head all day.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Detroit also has Jose Mesa now. Did you know that? Probably not. It doesn't matter. He's injured. He set the record for saves in Cleveland once upon a time, and hasn't really done anything for anyone since.
Their pitching doesn't deserve sole blame, though. Sheff hasn't done much of anything for them yet. Neither has Inge and a few others. They've also been making some embarrassing fielding errors. Still, hearing about Thames tying it up with that homer in the 9th the other day was pretty sweet. And Polanco, Guillen, and Pudge are always money.
And right now they're tied for first place. So I guess I can't complain too much.
I get to actually watch Cleveland games. Looks like Sizemore and Hafner are already having solid years. Westbrook has to feel terrible about his recent New York appearance, because everyone including him knows that he's better than that. Fun fact: whenever Hafner comes to bat, I yell, "HAFNER SMASH!!" Mrs. Jeff hates it. It's really funny.
I'm glad that I get to watch Cleveland. I consider it a special treat to actually watch the Tigers instead of updating the online scoreboard 200 times. I know I get to see them when they play Cleveland, I have a decent chance of catching them on WGN when they play the White Sox (but even then they seem to carry the Cubs more), and ESPN is sometimes gracious enough to show something other than the Yankees or Red Sox.
Speaking of which: I don't care how many bowel movements Dice-K had today, ESPN. I know, that's crazy to say. But it's the truth. How about a little equal time now and then?
And as much as I lament some of the Detroit pitching, I'm absolutely thrilled with the New York pitching. Hee hee.
And R.I.P. David Halberstam. I read The Teammates a few years ago and greatly enjoyed it. I know he's probably more well-known for his political stuff, but it still fits here.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
I thought that it was a cool feature that pretty much every other blog-hosting service had, so when I saw that the Beta upgrade offered it, I wanted to take advantage not just for new entries but for all entries.
So now you can read all the Pop Culture Roundups from the very beginning right in a row. Or every good and bad thing that I've had to say about the way the UCC does things. Or every post where I've cheered or lamented Michigan sports teams and sometimes the Indians. Or every post I made For No Particular Reason.
Check it out in the sidebar. I'm psyched. Psyched.
Friday, April 20, 2007
There's a lot of distrust brewing on The Sopranos. This week's episode had different characters reflecting on what being the boss is like. Johnny Sack having cancer was pretty sudden, although it helps move along Phil stepping into the boss role in New York. A few different people get Tony to continue contemplating his own place as boss, which seems to be the running theme of these last episodes. I'm gonna call it and say Christopher gets whacked by someone from New York. It'd satiate Phil's desire for retribution and it'd eliminate Tony's current object of suspicion. But David Chase doesn't like to do the "neat and tidy" thing, so what do I know? Meanwhile, Entourage was a little weak. To sum up: Turtle yells at a girl for criticizing his skills as a dog owner and Ari shows integrity and heart by sticking up for Lloyd. It just didn't seem to move forward at all. At least when "nothing happens" on The Sopranos, we've actually witnessed some character development or some other more subtle plot points. That's why it's such a great series. But Entourage is less clear that the little things mean something.
Music-wise, here's my semi-annual plug for Pandora. This week I've been listening to my Gov't Mule station and my Rob Dougan station.
Around the web, here's a game where a monkey kicks a ball. And is Alanis Morissette making fun of the Black-Eyed Peas, herself, or both? You be the judge.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
There are two that fit this category: Reaffirming our Faith to Retain Our Churches and Returning to Unity and Diversity in the United Church of Christ. These resolutions are similar in purpose, the former much more detailed and well-written. So I'll focus on the first.
First, a brief anecdote from the Synod in Atlanta. At that Synod, two resolutions were presented for consideration: one explicitly declaring that the UCC recognizes Jesus as Lord and a second establishing the classic cross, crown, and orb with motto as the official UCC symbol over and against the comma of the God is Still Speaking initiative. When I blogged about these resolutions, I stuck them in their own category: The Non-Issues. Many across the denomination seemed to agree...these were initially resolutions very reactive in nature. There was never a question that "Jesus is Lord" remains the UCC's most basic confession, and the comma was never intended to replace the cross, crown, and orb (although in the case of the latter, I would have agreed that for a time the comma was so much more prominent). When these resolutions were presented for a vote, the committee to which they were assigned combined them into one well-written piece re-affirming the confession and symbol as central to the life of the UCC. Even so, someone stepped to one of the red microphones and used a stance of radical local church autonomy to state that no member of the UCC should be required to believe anything. I think I editorialized that slightly, but after the excellent re-wording of these resolutions and the fact that we are still a Christian denomination last I checked, this man stepping to the mic and saying what he said seemed pretty absurd.
A second anecdote. Back in college I was more "conservative" than I presently am. In truth, I was perhaps moderate with some "conservative" leanings. It was around that time that the first manifestation of the online discussion forums appeared on the UCC website. I happily joined in and, looking back, this was probably the beginning of my internet addiction. Anyway, I made a post calling myself a "liberal evangelical" or "evangelical liberal." I can't remember which way I phrased it, but it was to describe my moderate stance. I gave little description of what I really meant by the phrase, but it didn't stop a more "liberal" poster from chiming in that if I appeared before her Church and Ministry department seeking ordination, she'd vote me down without a second thought. What did she really know about me? Absolutely nothing. But for her, the use of the term "evangelical" was enough.
By the way, I've been ordained for over two years. How you like me now?
While I stuck these two resolutions in The Fluffy category, I still see value in the statement that they make. The first resolution attributes the UCC's loss of churches and membership to a trend that they call "denominational re-alignment." That is, denominations and churches are aligning themselves with people who believe like they do, "liberals" with "liberals," and "conservatives" with "conservatives." This resolution cites recent events and experiences within the UCC as evidence that this trend is real: "conservative" members and churches leaving, "liberal" members and churches staying or joining. The resolution doesn't cite this, but I'll go a step further and lift up the growing tendency of those within the denomination to align themselves with one movement over and against another (ONA, FWC, BWF, M-O-U-S-E) as evidence of a divide. Some aren't re-aligning by leaving...many are re-aligning while staying.
The first resolution cites a few of our founding documents in support of a unified church. The first is the Basis of Union with Interpretations which recognizes that we are united under one God and in one catholic Church. The other is the Preamble to the UCC Constitution, which recognizes, among other things, Jesus as Lord and sole head of the church ("The UCC Constitution requires us to believe something! We need to change it!"). The resolution calls for a re-affirmation of essential beliefs as laid out by these documents in an effort to give more "conservative" members a reason to remain within the denomination. Above everything else, the spirit of this resolution states, we hold to a common confession even if we differ in non-essential matters. One may argue what is essential and non-essential, but first and foremost this resolution holds up these founding "testimonies" as statements under which all may unite.
These resolutions remain in The Fluffy category. Their passing would be a nice statement to make, but how would it play out? The "Reaffirming our Faith" resolution does offer a few suggestions, such as giving equal voice to more "conservative" ideas at meetings and in publications. Beyond that, however, the constant struggle remains between people of differing views attempting to seek the kingdom of God together. We can deal with it by reacting against all percieved "tests" of faith. We can deal with it by stuffing others into preconcieved categories. Or we can swallow our pride a little and listen.
Still, one has to wonder what that means for actually carrying out the church's mission and not just talking. Do we wait for complete consensus to make a statement or carry out a project? A 2/3 or 51% majority? What does unity around essentials while attempting to address non-essentials look like?
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
...My thoughts immediately went to Heidelberg. This could have happened there--either while I was still a student or now when my brother is still a student. To put this horrible event in those terms makes...this event that much scarier. It personalizes it; makes it real to me. That's not to be selfish, i.e., "I'm glad that it didn't happen there." Instead, it's my way of sympathizing with the grief and shock being felt on Virginia Tech's campus. People across the country are grieving what happened in different ways, and I suppose that this is mine. This could have happened anywhere--that's my shock. This happened at Virginia Tech--that's my grief.
I hesitate to make sense of this in theological terms. All the concepts that I've studied melt away in the face of raw tragedy and deep pain. Michael Spencer observes in this week's podcast that when Job's friends show up to console him, they remain silent for the first seven days. It isn't until they start trying to offer explanations that they begin digging holes for themselves.
Regardless, I've thought a lot about human sin. I think about the absolutely evil acts that Cho unleashed on his unsuspecting classmates and teachers. I wonder what sorts of sins perpetrated by others may have helped condition him to act this way. The problem of sinfulness is both societal and personal. It is real in both forms. And it seems to be a better starting point than to ask where God was on Monday or where God is now or why God didn't step in or what sort of a God is revealed or whether God exists at all.
I believe in a God who is now present with those who mourn. I believe in a resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ, who knows what it's like to suffer at the hands of a sinful humanity firsthand. I believe in the power of love experienced through community--a power that is no doubt felt on that campus today in a way that it's never been felt before. I believe in prayer, and so I pray for strength and comfort to be felt with those closest to this tragedy.
And I keep praying, because I don't know what else to do.
There are two that fit this category: Changing the Composition of the General Synod, and Renewing the Covenant with the Rural Church.
I'm torn on the resolution on Synod's composition. As it currently stands, voting delegates to Synod are elected by their Associations or Conferences and are understood to be representatives of their Conference. In the best of circumstances, delegates solicit input from the churches of which they're members. Occasionally, churches are proactive enough to send letters to all delegates within their Association or Conference with their opinions on resolutions as well.
This resolution proposes that Synod's representation be altered from Conference representation to local church representation: every church gets to send a delegate and every authorized minister is able to be a delegate. It provides some caveats: churches need to contribute to OCWM (Our Church's Wider Mission, the UCC's basic offering used to fund all its wider expressions), and there's a weird bit of wording about churches that have over 400 members being able to send extra delegates.
Why do this? The resolution answers this in a couple ways. First, it observes that many UCC churches have slipped "into a kind of 'localism,'" and this would help them to think about wider forms of ministry and mission. This resolution seems to mean localism in the sense of isolationism, which I agree is not observant of our covenental partnerships with other UCC churches. The resolution rightly observes that many churches have become more disinterested in wider church matters, and seems more concerned with churches' non-participation and less about the possibility that they're engaging in "localism" in the sense that they're too preoccupied with local mission to be bothered with wider church matters. The proposal here is that by giving each church the opportunity to send a delegate to Synod, they'll feel better connected and more aware of what the wider church is doing.
This is a nice idea, in theory. A few critiques:
- Money. Synod costs $500-$2000 per person. Conferences help with these costs as best they can, but that's still a lot to ask, especially since this resolution would probably shift that burden more to the delegate and his/her local church.
- Time. In my experience, church members don't want to give up a Saturday for an Association meeting. Would they want to give up an entire week (in many instances, vacation time) to travel to Synod?
- Location. If the Synod in Hartford, for instance, was set up under this new delegate system, we'd probably see a greater number of delegates from Connecticut and surrounding states than we would from points further away, because money and time would be lesser factors for those who live closer. Would that truly be representative of the UCC in the way that this resolution pictures it?
I don't disagree with the basic premise and spirit of the resolution. I simply wonder if it will make the difference that supporters believe it will.
Originally, I had the resolution concerning rural churches in The Fluffy category, but then I read it over again and found that it might make a difference in structure and governance. So now it's here.
This resolution is pretty cool. It describes the situation that churches in rural settings face: limited financial and technological resources, economic and justice issues related to agriculture, sometimes a lack of partnerships with other UCC churches due to proximity, the struggle to call pastors, and so on. If people lamenting "localism" search for reasons for such a mindset, I'm guessing that the struggles found in these churches are among the biggest.
The resolution notes that rural churches make up 60% of the total number found on UCC rolls. It also notes that when the UCC originally came together, there was a specific department devoted to addressing these churches' needs. It was eventually phased out. This resolution calls for the re-establishment of national staff positions and other resources specifically for these settings. According to this resolution, this would involve a joint effort between Local Church Ministries and Justice & Witness Ministries. I think the resolution is excellent. Practically speaking, maybe we should pass this one and revisit the one on composition after rural churches are given some hope and reason to build stronger partnerships with the wider church.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
The resolutions that fit into this category are Against Depleted Uranium Weapons, A Call to End Migrant Deaths and the US Blockade Strategy of Border Enforcement, Call for a More Humane United States Immigration Policy, Support for Immigrant Communities, and Regarding the Tar Creek Superfund Site.
I'm far from being an expert on any of these issues, so this entry may end up being kind of short. In fact, the way I'll do this is riff a few observations on the resolutions now and then spend more time on them before Synod later.
My grandfather was a Marine, so I grew up around a certain appreciation for what those in the armed forces do. While the general prospect of war is abhorrent to me and I believe that each potential or actual conflict should be constantly evaluated in terms of its purpose and ethics, I separate that from a thankfulness for the military's existence. It is tragic that we live in a world where countries need to defend themselves from each other, but I'm thankful that someone is defending me. For further thoughts, see Jack Nicholson's speech in A Few Good Men.
Okay, so here comes this resolution on depleted uranium. I never heard of depleted uranium before this, and the resolution points out that not a lot of people have. This is an incredibly detailed resolution: the endnotes take up nearly three pages by themselves. However, right off the bat I noticed that it could use a little tightening. For instance, there are a few WHEREASes (is that a word?) that address the use of nuclear weapons in general, one of which discloses that a plan to wage nuclear war was once upon a time submitted to the White House. The resolution doesn't make clear why all of these are relevant or necessary to mention. The document begins with a paragraph saying that it wants to be very specific in what it wants to address, but then doesn't follow up on that desire very well.
The greatest issue that this resolution wants to address, at least on the outset, is the effect that depleted uranium has on people and the environment. In particular, it points out that the dust from depleted uranium has been increasingly linked to health problems such as cancer and birth defects, and finds its way into food and water supplies. That is certainly a great concern. The trade-off, as was recently put to me by an army chaplain, is the proper protection for our soldiers. Is short-term protection enough to counterbalance the long-term health risks?
The next three resolutions deal with Mexican border issues. I considered putting these in The Controversial, but it's not clear to me whether this issue would be a catalyst for churches or members to leave. I'm just going to deal with the first one because I like it the best. Again, they'll be smooshed together in a committee anyway.
I have a slightly broader base of information and experience on this issue. I took a trip in college to the Mexican border and saw the poverty and desperation for myself: endless collectives of shacks made from wooden palattes, dirt floors, ragged clothing. The people shared their experiences of working in the maquiladoras, U.S.-owned factories located just over the border with abhorrent working conditions. In part, the resolution calls for an improvement in economic policies that would drive people to seek illegal entry.
Besides that, this resolution addresses the U.S.'s current border enforcement policies. It decries what it calls "vigilante activities," presumably referring to the recent border militias that have been formed, as well as the general culture of prejudice and fear that has been created while this issue has been debated. This resolution is far from "just let them all in," which is a common caricature of the argument to reconsider our current policies. Instead, this resolution first wants to protect people who attempt to cross illegally not so they can be let in but so their human rights are respected. Only after that does the resolution want people to reconsider our current legal immigration policies and to question why they are currently so restrictive.
Finally, we have a resolution dealing with the Tar Creek Superfund Site, which I think is the best representation of my original definition of this category. Will people outside the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference--the group it affects the most and the group that can make the most real lasting difference--remember or hear about this resolution again after June 26th? I doubt it. That isn't to say that preserving this site is not worthwhile. I simply wonder what any Synod delegate not from that Conference or any other UCC entity besides the office of President and General Minister, is expected to do with this after Synod ends.
The basic gist of the resolution is as follows. The Tar Creek Superfund site is an area spanning Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma that is in serious need of attention. It is contaminated as a result of past lead and zinc mining activity, and in particular affects local American Indian reservations as well as the overall environment. The resolution calls for the UCC President and other entities to petition various branches of the United States government to heighten awareness and action related to the site. It's a good statement and worthwhile cause, but I'm pessimistic about its lasting impact.
Monday, April 16, 2007
This category is meant for those resolutions that may cause the biggest rifts among church members.
This year, those resolutions are A Reaffirmation of Marriage Based on the Word of God, A Reaffirmation of the Historical and Ecumenical Christian Perspective on Marriage, and Legalization of Physician Aid in Dying.
In the case of the first two, I'll focus on the second. They'll be combined in committee anyway. And I'm not going to spend a lot of time on it, because I'm bored with it. Children are starving in Somalia and people would rather spend their time on this.
First, a word on the scriptures this resolution uses. Particularly for opponents of same-sex marriage, the issue is how the Bible is authoritative. This resolution acknowledges that, and I agree. Accusations fly over this issue more about whether people are correctly following "what the Bible says," and in more extreme witch-hunting cases, whether someone is a Christian or not.
As such, we hear the familiar argument that the Bible prescribes marriage to be between "one man and one woman." At best, this model is most widely described in scripture. Genesis 2 shows the man and woman becoming partners, and yet there is little indication that this was meant to be a prescriptive text. It describes marriage between the man and the woman, but does not necessarily prescribe it as the only valid form. It does, however, communicate the bond that is formed once a man and woman become married, which Jesus echoes in the Gospels.
The resolution acknowledges the presence of polygymy in the Bible (frequently cited in opposition to the claim that there is only one Biblical model of marriage), but includes a few weak texts that supposedly state that God does not approve of the practice. These texts are prescriptive for royal and religious figures, and the one text from Malachi doesn't even apply. The Deuteronomy text is prescriptive for kings in particular rather than the general populace, and we can see how closely David and Solomon followed it. Nowhere is there condemnation for their polygymy, or advice that they drop all but one wife, or punishment for taking more than one wife. Surely these two, lifted up as the two greatest kings of Israel, would have faced some sort of backlash for it. David gets in trouble for adultery and murder, not polygymy. Again, this model is described, but it is not regulated or prescribed. The only time any regulation of polygymy seems to be enforced is in the pastoral letters where bishops and elders are told to only have one wife. Okay, what about everyone else? The Bible simply does not provide the categorical, be-all, end-all prescription for one single form of marriage to be observed for all time. That, or Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and anyone not called to be a bishop or elder all get free passes.
These observations are not to encourage an "anything goes" approach to marriage. I am in support of a loving, consenting, monogomous relationship between two adult human beings. I simply wanted to point out that the Biblical model of "one man and one woman" is not as much of a slam dunk as many may believe.
Somalian children, people. Somalian children.
All in all, I see a difference in reaction between what the passing of the Equal Marriage resolution last Synod and the possible failing of these two resolutions may cause at the local level. The former was an active affirmation, the latter would be a passive affirmation at best. Whatever stir the latter may cause would probably be more because of the momentum of the former.
The other resolution in this category deals with physician aid in dying. The short version is that I find this resolution very well-written. I'll lift up three things.
First, when I was a hospital chaplain, there was one wing of the hospital that we were told not to concern ourselves with except by special referral because it was considered a different hospital. This "hospital-within-a-hospital" was called Select Specialty, for patients that required a specialized level of care. When I did get called to this wing, I found that "specialized level of care" really translated to "hooked up to more machines and otherwise oblivious to their surroundings." I remember the feeling of death when I walked onto the unit and into my patient's room. They were alive, sure, but by extreme artificial means. Would they ever wake up, express their own needs, approach any degree of normal competency, recognition, and interaction? The chances seemed slim.
Second, I don't like crediting John Shelby Spong with a whole lot, but I liked the quote included in this resolution:
If I have a medically confirmed incurable disease, and can bear the pain of that sickness only by being placed in a kind of twilight zone, where I neither recognize the sweet smile of my wife nor respond to the touch of her hand, do I not have the ethical right to end my life with medical assistance?
In other words, would someone in that "twilight zone" state be fully alive? Are the only choices a life of severe pain or a life where one is basically kept unconscious to endure the pain? It seems to me that death would be an act of mercy, perhaps even love, if these are the only other options. Also note the phrase "medically confirmed incurable." I think that sometimes people oppose resolutions like this because they paint pictures for themselves of children and grandchildren on a whim rushing to nursing homes to inject morphine into their relatives (never mind that many nursing homes have abysmal standards of care...as a pastor, I've seen and smelled some of them). Physician aid in dying is not meant for "inconvenience" sorts of cases...it is for those whose health has reached a point that makes any semblance of normal living impossible.
Finally, the resolution laments the frequent inclusion of the word "suicide" in these discussions, observing that suicide is frequently a tragic and violent ending of life that could have continued with appropriate care and renewed hope. Meanwhile, physician aid in dying is construed as a more careful, "safeguarded" act for a person whose life has already taken its final turn. Again, the operative theological concepts at work here are mercy and love. Read this resolution. It's very well-done.
That's it for The Controversial. Further discussion, of course, is invited in the comments. Just keep it civil.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
I didn't realize that the "one of" phrase applied to the word "notebooks." I know lots of people who keep diaries and journals. I know less who like to keep sketchbooks or who like to scrapbook or who keep a book around for writing down lyrics or poetry. And I know lots of people who clutch their calendar books to their chests like life preservers.
What I mean is that I like keeping notebooks. Sure, I mainly use them to journal nowadays, but I just like to have a notebook around. I get all giddy when I go into Staples or when I see the journal selection at Barnes and Noble (which I actually prefer to Borders, if you must know).
It all began when I was probably around eight years old. My cousin, my brother and I began a little notebook fellowship of sorts. Hm...that would have made my brother two years old. Okay, I think he came along a little later in this story. Anyway, we began filling notebooks with our own superhero characters. We started creating an entire world of warriors who were called to fight the basic fight of good and evil. I'd fill up one book, and made my parents rush me to the store to start another. The beginning of a new book was thrilling: it had so much potential. How would its pages be used?
Of course, eventually we grew up. I still like to doodle, but this activity of ours faded as my cousin and I entered high school. Sadly, the books I filled are lost to the ages, collateral damage during a session of spring cleaning. I still hold out hope that these icons of my childhood are in the corner of a closet yet to be rediscovered.
That experience left me with a love of notebooks, but the lack of a clear need for them. I continued to be fascinated by each book's potential and excited by trips to the school supply section. But for quite a while I was a ship without a rudder. I have a notebook that I may have bought at some point in college that still isn't full. It contains drawings, lyrics (mostly horrible), notes from campus organizations, notes from seminary lectures...the excitement of the notebook intact, zero direction.
It wasn't until the past few years that I really became a journal person. That is to say, it wasn't until the past few years that I decided that my notebooks should mainly be used for journaling. The reason that I decided this is to give my weird notebook obsession a new purpose; a general goal. Finally, the psychic fulfillment that I felt wouldn't be so weird. The main purpose is still to journal, but I also use them to keep sermon thoughts, early ideas for blog entries, slightly better song lyrics, and random drawings.
I've recently discovered that there are other people like me who just like notebooks. They just like to have one around to write, take notes, journal, draw, and any number of other things. Some have always had a singular purpose...others perhaps came up with a purpose later to justify themselves. Like me. Take, for instance, the blog known as Notebookism. Take, for another instance, the blog known as Moleskinerie. They just freaking like notebooks, okay?
For my own part, I have a few product preferences. Moleskines are the top of the line for me. They're modern and classic at the same time. They're also expensive as blank notebooks go, dare I say a little elitist. But they're quality and they look and feel good. When I purchase a Moleskine, it's like I'm treating myself. My cheap alternative are the canvas-bound journals that Borders sells. They're much less flashy than the Moleskine, but they're solid. And if I'm just looking for something that works, there's the classic Mead Composition book with the black-and-white marble cover that maybe run me $2.00. It feels more rugged, like I'm slowly compiling notes for the Book That Will Change The World.
Why am I telling you this? I don't know. Maybe it's because I recently discovered that I'm not the only one who just likes to have a notebook handy. Or maybe it's because I'm more proud of this aspect of my weirdness. Or both.
Friday, April 13, 2007
I started Inside the Organic Church this week. It's been sitting on my shelf, and I really meant to leaf through it. This is another book that studies and reports on various emerging congregations, but this author has resolved to not only report on success stories. Instead, his intent is to profile 12 churches and lift out a few general points from each that could help other pastors and leaders. I picked up this book specifically to read the chapters on churches that are struggling a little more. I haven't hit one of those chapters yet. So far I've read about a huge Anglican church in England and I think Rob Bell's huge church in Grand Rapids is next. I guess I have to be patient.
I know that I resolved to give up on American Idol after last season, but I haven't been able to help myself. This is something that I am ten times more ashamed of than my botched Lenten discipline. It's especially horrible because the only intriguing story this year is the continual survival of the worst contestant. I've read that Simon said he'd quit if Sanjaya wins. Here's the thing: who let Sanjaya into the Top 24, let alone Hollywood, to begin with? Besides that, I guess I'm rooting for the beatboxing guy. Sure. Why not?
I've also been watching baseball. I know it's only the first few weeks of April, but the Tigers had me worried for a little bit. They still do. Rogers is out until July, and they haven't been giving other pitchers very good run support yet. Verlander pitched seven awesome innings the other day and wasn't credited with the win because no one scored any runs while he was in the game. The bullpen has actually been a little dismal, too. Pudge's home run the other day was cool, though. The Indians are doing well too, after they finally got a chance to play.
It's been an O.A.R. kind of week. They put me in a warm weather mood.
Around the web, I stumbled upon Endangered Species: Church, written by another of those pesky young mainline pastors who likes missional concepts.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
So here are this year's categories. The texts for all of these can be found here.
The Controversial: A Reaffirmation of Marriage Based on the Word of God, A Reaffirmation of the Historic and Ecumenical Christian Perspective on Marriage, Legalization of Physician Aid in Dying
The Mildly Divisive: Against Depleted Uranium Weapons, A Call to End Migrant Deaths and the US Blockade Strategy of Border Enforcement, Call For A More Humane United States Immigration Policy, In Support of Immigrant Communities, Regarding the Tar Creek Superfund Site
The Practical: Changing the Composition of the General Synod, Renewing the Covenant with the Rural Church
The Fluffy: Reaffirming our Faith to Retain our Churches, Returning To Unity And Diversity In The United Church of Christ
I'll have some extra time next week, so I'll treat these categories one day at a time. Or maybe every other day. Whatever.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
The meme states to list your favorite contemporary theology books. "Contemporary" is set as 1981-present. He picked three, so I'll pick three:
God, Creation, and All That Jazz - This is a book out of the school known as process theology, the thought that creation isn't finished and God is still actively creating alongside us as opposed to having it all finished from the get-go and now we're just along for the ride. Here, Pedersen uses a jazz metaphor to explain what she means: jazz is more of a free-flowing style. It has a basic structure, but the musicians know their instruments and the song so well that they can improvise without losing the main idea (I shall soon write the second installment: God, Creation, and Dave Matthews Band). This is in contrast to a symphony orchestra, the music of which is planned and directed down to the last note and rest. Pedersen suggests that God and creation both are more like jazz: the basic structures are there and God has a purpose for all of it, but there is a lot of change, risk, unexpected and unplanned sorts of moments. God is present during all of it and works with all of it, but not necessarily by controlling or determining all of it. In other words, God and creation are both much more dynamic in nature.
A Generous Orthodoxy - I think I'm going to re-read this one soon. Brian McLaren puts in book form something that I've long believed: you don't need to be exclusively from one theological school. In fact, here's the tagline: "Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN." He presents chapter after chapter of ideas that he appreciates from theologies across the board while offering his gentle McLaren-esque critique of them at the same time. One of my favorite metaphors I've heard recently comes from this book. McLaren talks about a game of basketball, and how we learn the rules not so we can point out when others aren't playing right, but so we can enjoy playing the game. McLaren calls for a way of doing theology that doesn't focus on pointing out others' errant beliefs, but so we can live by those beliefs. We're not called to be referees; we're called to be players. Jesus was all about that.
Faith Seeking Understanding - I really hope that I come up with a better third book to stick on this list. In the meantime, this was required reading in seminary and I stick it on here because it's contemporary and not terrible. It's pretty systematic and, by my reckoning, sort of a modern liberal/neo-orthodox hybrid. It's good for what it is, which is more of an introductory text than anything else. If you read all the books on this list, start with this one and then maybe the others won't scandalize you as much. This meme fizzled out just now, didn't it?
I'm adding a fourth, but for some reason keeping Faith Seeking Understanding on here. It's my blog, I'll do what I want. Anyway, Terence Fretheim's The Suffering of God has stuck with me since I had to read it in seminary. In some ways, this book goes hand-in-hand with Pedersen's, although they do differ in some respects. For instance, where Pedersen suggests that God's control is limited by nature, Fretheim suggests that it is limited by choice. That's the difference between process theology and open theism. Here's the main reason that I stuck this on here. Pedersen's book may sound strange and even heretical to people. Fretheim presents similar ideas, but pulls them straight out of scripture. There are, off the top of my head, four texts where God changes God's mind about something. Three of them are because of a human being arguing on the people's behalf. Abraham did it with Sodom, Moses did it during the golden calf episode, God told Jeremiah that God would change God's mind if the people repented, and Amos did it. So I stick this book on here to show that this theology isn't just made up because someone decided that they didn't like high Calvinism any more. One can argue that it isn't a "complete" view, but one needs to first acknowledge that the view has scriptural merit.
Okay, I'm done. Time to go to work.
Monday, April 09, 2007
21. United Church of Christ, 1,224,297, reporting a decrease of 3.28 percent.
Two years later, it still isn't hard to guess the reason. According to FWC's website, 227 churches have left the UCC since the 25th General Synod's passing of Equal Marriage Rights for All. The above stat is the largest decrease of any "mainline" denomination reported this year.
There is a hopeful side that I can see. About a week ago, our national office sent out a new flyer entitled Now is the Time for New Church Development, which sets out the very ambitious goal of establishing 1600 new churches by the year 2021. I occasionally wonder if I'm called to participate in such a thing down the road, which scares me if it's genuine and not just my ego. Regardless, this flyer and its stated goals gives me hope that while limbs are falling off, new buds are forming. The face and shape of the denomination will change accordingly, but if Associations and Conferences actively support this endeavor, there is good cause to go ahead and plan the 100-year celebration.
Here are a few suggestions for pursuing this goal:
1. Make it about the new churches' needs and consequently about local communities' needs rather than about wider church needs. Yes, the denomination is struggling financially, but that should not be a primary reason for establishing new churches. Our hearts are in the wrong place if we're only planting churches so that they can send money to the Association, Conference, or National setting. This isn't about the institution, it's about engaging the needs of a local setting through mission and evangelism.
2. Emphasize local mission and evangelism. Sounds repetitive, but a local church needs to reflect the local culture. The old model of plopping a vaccuous message in the middle of a foreign culture is breaking or has broken down. New churches will need to be relevant and relateable. A big city liberal heading out to rural Iowa with little regard or love for the context in which s/he is called to establish a church probably won't do well. Aside from that, what does the community need? Is there a large homeless population? A conflict between leaders and workers? A struggling mentally ill population? A general ignorance of or antagonism toward Christianity? How will a new church address these needs?
3. Give permission to take risks. Church planting is a risk in and of itself, but how willing is the planter to try new forms of church governance, worship, evangelism, etc.? Do you really need to buy or build a building eventually? Do you really need to have worship on Sunday morning as opposed to some other day and/or time? Do you really need to wear vestments or feature a 20-minute sermon? Do you really need to seek out an old set of hymnals that some other church isn't using any more, at least until you can afford new ones (and then, do you really need the New Century Hymnal just because you're UCC)? Do you really need a Powerpoint projector? Why do you or don't you think that people will respond if you dare to be a different sort of church? Note that these are practical issues I'm talking about, not theological ones. To a certain extent, the medium is the message, but here I just mean the medium.
Like I said, this new initiative gives me hope for the future of the UCC. The above stats show that the mountain may be a little steep, along with a general post-denominational trend in America. Still, the prospect of new, dynamic, and missional churches being established and supported with the UCC's help is pretty exciting, and worth supporting.
As I wrote yesterday, I only read one book during Lent. I skimmed one or two others, but I only really read one. That book was The Last Week, a team effort by Borg and Crossan. Their primary focus is the story of Jesus' final week as told by the Gospel of Mark. First off, I hadn't realized that Mark does give an account of every day of Jesus' final week. That was a small revelation for me to start. The discussions that really stuck with me dealt with the symbology of the "triumphal" entry into Jerusalem, and what is really meant by Jesus as sacrifice. They suggest that the entry is largely satirical: Jesus on a donkey rather than a mighty horse like a Roman emperor might ride, and so on. They discuss the meaning of sacrifice quite a bit, and how temple sacrifice didn't carry a focus on the animal's suffering or a belief that the animal was somehow taking humanity's place, but it was rather a gift to God to help maintain a healthy relationship. The idea of sacrifice may still be troublesome for people, but this at least provided some context for what sacrifice really meant, and how Jesus as sacrifice may have been understood.
During Lent, I watched a couple movies. Here they are in brief soundbites:
~Over the Hedge - Lots of fun shots at suburban life (my favorite is a woman in her SUV and on her cell phone: "Of course I can talk, I'm just driving"), and a lot of recognizable voices. My favorites were William Shatner as the overdramatic possum and Steve Carell as the strung out squirrel. I also found that there's an entire theological theme that you can develop from this movie about humanity's use of food, particularly the role it plays in social gatherings and how much we throw away.
~Happy Feet - I thought that for me personally, a movie about penguins would be a slam dunk. For some reason this didn't do it for me. I wasn't much for the "musical-ized" versions of a bunch of pop songs (I don't want to see Moulin Rouge for the same reason), Robin Williams just didn't seem that funny, and I just wasn't feeling the "humans see a bunch of penguins tap dancing and decide to destroy the environment somewhere else instead" bit. Of course, I was also watching this movie around 10:00 at night in a hospital waiting room after sitting with a young woman's family all day waiting for her to give birth. That might've played a role.
~Just Friends - Ryan Reynolds plays a dorky guy who gets burned when he tries to take a high school friendship to the next level, moves to Los Angeles and becomes a player with a successful career, then somehow finds himself back home again 10 years later still trying to win over the girl. Some of the post-high school movie cliches are there (moron jock turns into drunk fat loser). Ana Faris is hilarious as a crazy Britney-ish pop singer.
~Take the Lead - Think Sister Act 2, except they dance instead of form a choir. Meh.
If you don't want to know what happened, skip this paragraph. The best weekly 1 1/2 hours of television began last night. The Sopranos got me to sit up when Bobby took a swing at Tony...then again, Tony was making a lot of cracks about Janice. Still, you don't expect that sort of thing from Bobby. So at that point, you wonder whether Tony will make a decision about that as the boss or as the brother-in-law. It seems he does both by making Bobby take out a hit in order to make a business deal. And we had a duck sighting! I've read in numerous places that David Chase doesn't want to end the series in a nice neat package (i.e., Tony's death or imprisonment), so I'm hesitant to wonder stuff like, "Will Bobby do it? Will Phil? Etc." This was immediately followed by Entourage, where Ari begins his quest to get Vince back as a client. It seems to be one of those things where you know it'll eventually happen, but wonder how and when. The first step that he takes is by trying to get Vince the dramatic role that he's wanted since the first season, which makes me wonder if they're eventually headed to an Oscar storyline. Drama trying to get everyone to notice the billboard for his new show was hilarious.
To my shame, I haven't been listening to a lot of new music. Nelly Furtado's Say It Right is my Musical Junk Food of the Moment and I've been digging Fall Out Boy lately. But as far as anything from my favorite genre, there hasn't been much to speak of. I am planning a few concert outings to Robert Randolph and DMB this summer. We need to pay a ridiculous amount of money to the government first, though. Clergy taxes=craptastic.
Around the web...I got nothin'. You'd think I would, what with screwing up my Lenten discipline and all. But no. Nothin'.
Sunday, April 08, 2007
I guess I should begin with Happy Easter. Christ is risen. It is true.
As it turns out, this little discipline of mine came with mixed results.
For the most part, it was a rewarding time that I was able to stick with. Initially, I allowed myself time on the internet for two reasons: e-mail and research. “Research” was loosely defined as anything involving sermon preparation, driving directions, and stuff I can’t find anywhere else. As such, I discovered a few things about my own dependence on the internet, as well as our culture’s dependence on it as a whole. After all, how much quicker is it to enter a subject on a search engine than to figure out the next most likely place you’d find certain information? In addition, how much more information might be available on the internet; how limited is my access otherwise?
A light-hearted example: I live in Ohio. My newspaper, thus, will not provide extensive coverage on Michigan sports unless it’s taking cheap shots (the usual Buckeye blather and, more recently, sour grapes about the Tigers) or some Ohio team happens to be playing them that day. Looking back, I could have made trips to the library to read USA Today or some other national source of news, but then I would have had to plan that into my day, make the trip there, plan how long I could stay and where to look for what I wanted…you see how the internet has helped produce a culture of faster, more convenient results, albeit perhaps also one of laziness and with less creativity.
I watched a lot more television during Lent. This became one of my prime sources for national news. I watched a lot of Sportscenter and Headline News, though I’m ashamed to admit that I would also turn it on out of boredom when there clearly was nothing on worth watching. That was the biggest drawback of this exercise, I think. On the more positive side, I did make much better use of our newspaper subscription, and caught up on back issues of magazines. And I only read one book: Borg and Crossan’s The Last Week, which is quite good. It is a more text-based (as opposed to “historical Jesus”-based) look at the Gospel accounts of Holy Week. It’d make an excellent group study. I journaled quite a bit to placate my desire to write. I never really added more devotional or prayer time, which I wish I had done as well.
I do have to be entirely honest about how it went. I took full advantage of the “Sundays don’t count” rule, which was actually pretty unfulfilling the first few weeks. I thought that I’d welcome the opportunity to waste time on the internet again, but I found that I really didn’t care that much. Other blogs I faithfully read were skimmed without much of a second thought. I didn’t miss it for the first month.
But that was the first month. On a more recent Sunday, I got sucked in to something that Greg at The Parish wrote, along with the reactions to it elsewhere, and basically I fell off the wagon. You may have noticed that the post below this one was slightly modified, from “internet” to “blogging.” I know. It’s pathetic. The silver lining is that now I know how true the phrase “internet addict” is for me. It’s the sort of silver lining that still makes me feel incredibly dirty and inadequate. That’s Lent for you.
Even with the stumbling finish, I’ve become more aware of how dependent I’ve become on the internet for information and entertainment. It’s fast and it’s easy. It also makes me lazy, turns five minutes of checking e-mail into an hour of doing nothing, makes me neglectful of relationships with real flesh-and-blood human beings, and makes me incredibly dependent on an impersonal world of 0s and 1s for fulfillment and meaning.
So with this sharper awareness, we’re back open for business around here. I truly need to give the above further thought and apply it to this place. In the meantime, I’ll get back to some semblance of a routine.
Of course, that’ll be after we witness the return of The Sopranos and Entourage tonight. Sweet.
Here’s hoping your Lent went well. And again, Happy Easter.