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Showing posts from June, 2007

Those Sneaky Atheists

Whenever articles like this come up (and there seem to have been a slew of them recently), they eclicit dual reactions within me.

First, I cheer them on. Yeah! Point out those churches' flaws! It's about time Christians got a feel for how the outsiders see them! They need to take these types of things seriously!

Second, I come back down to earth when I realize that I am part of they. And then I get defensive. "Hold on a second," I begin to object. "I don't think you're giving them a fair shot. Did you really want to be helpful, or just to sit near the back and take a few self-satisfied swipes?"

Probably both, in their own way. Some comments are genuinely helpful. They question cultural appropriation (at the UCC church...ahem), they criticize the "Jesus wants you to be rich" mentality, they appreciate genuine welcome but recoil when it gets too Disneyworld. At other times, it does seem more like the arty theatre kids making fun of the cheerlea…

Synod Decompression

The past week has been busy. In fact, there's been more going on over the past few days than even I'd anticipated, related to both the UCC's recently concluded General Synod and family. I'd meant to blog some thoughts during Synod, but never had access to a computer. Thus the blog went dark for a week or so.

And while this entry will mainly be about Synod itself, I'm thinking much more about family right now. My grandmother had been sick for quite a while, and I got the call early yesterday morning that she passed away. What was wonderfully convenient about my trip to Hartford was that my father's side of the family lives in New Jersey, so I was able to spend part of Grandma's final day with her. Not everyone can say that they're able to do this. So while I join my family in grief, I also give thanks for a life that was lived completely for God and for others. And it helped fuel my cranky post from yesterday.

So that's the long and short of th…

To Whom It May Concern:

Just because we're a church, it doesn't automatically mean that I as the pastor am going to appreciate your free copies of Why the Heathen Secularists Must Be Forced to Look at the Ten Commandments in Courtrooms and Why All Muslims--Yes, Even the Nice Ones--Are Evil and Why We As Good War-Supporting Christians Need to Pray that America Attacks More Countries Soon.

Stop sending me your crappy books.

Thank you.

Okay, One More Sopranos Post

Here's an article from a former TV writer analyzing the last scene. He makes a very good case that Tony dies by pointing out a whole bunch of imagery that nobody probably noticed the first time.

Thinking Out Loud About John 14:6, Part 2

I was talking with a friend the other day who in turn had been talking with a friend. This third party is not a Christian, and he'd had a conversation with someone involved with the Evangelical parachurch campus ministry where he and my friend are getting Ph.Ds.

During the third party's conversation with this other person, the notion of the "God-shaped hole" came up. This is the idea that we all have a hole in our souls someplace shaped like God and thus God is the only one that can fill it. When my friend told me about this later, he used "God-shaped" and "Jesus-shaped" interchangeably, which is probably significant.

Anyway, my friend turned the question to me: "Do we need Jesus, specifically, to fill this hole? Is plugging some hole inside us with Jesus the only way to have a meaningful life?"

This was, and is, a question of whether other faiths are valid. It is also a question that assumes what humanity's problem is. I was a …

Thinking Out Loud About John 14:6, Part 1

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

This verse has come up in a few different places for me lately. There's a big discussion about it happening on the UCC forums. Last night I overheard a guy telling another guy that this verse is "objectively true" while I was picking up some Chinese take-out. A few days ago, a friend asked me not about this verse but about the general concept of absolutely needing Jesus to have any semblance of a meaningful life.

This will be a little rambling and may need to be divided up into two parts. So be forewarned.

Traditionally, this verse is interpreted to be an exclusive, triumphalistic affirmation of Christianity as the one true faith. Note that I said Christianity. True, some would argue that the person of Christ is what the verse means, but then we begin to talk about who Christ is and which beliefs are correct and before too long there are accusations of apo…

Pop Culture Roundup

I'm still reading The Angry Christian, and haven't really made much progress since last Friday. The last chapters I read dealt with the Bible portraying God and Jesus showing anger. First, Lester argues against a traditional claim that God only appears to be showing anger in the Old Testament; that God is really immutable. He argues that this is not what's actually in the Bible--God is portrayed as being intimately and passionately invested in creation and Israel, and one is reading that "immutable" theology back into things. He mentions a few difficult texts such as 2 Samuel 24 where God is angry at Israel and makes David take a census, then gets angry at David for taking the census and makes him choose a punishment, then decides mid-punishment that God is being too harsh. Lester doesn't resolve the inclusion of this text, he just mentions it to begin the discussion. He could've done without it. And throughout his discussion of these texts, Lester…

The Angry Christian and the Belligerent Salesperson

I yelled at a salesperson today.

People who call the church office don't have the benefit of seeing the "No Solicitors" sign on the door...some people who visit the church office apparently can't see it either.

Anyway, this guy really got on my nerves. Helpful hint for those of you who call pastors trying to sell them stuff: don't use the following lines...

"You know this is a good idea, right?"

"Well, you're the pastor. You're the final decision-maker. People look to you for that, don't they? I mean, if a team isn't doing well, one of the first people they get rid of is the coach."

"Here's what other pastors have done: they pay for the first few months out of their own pockets and then present the good results to their board so they can set aside some money. So shall I sign you up?"

"Well, you have the option of sitting around and thinking about it for a while and eventually deciding against it, but wouldn't y…

More on The Sopranos Finale

All right, people, let's you and me have a little chat.

Let's talk about that final scene.

For those who don't want to know or whatever, look away from the screen now.

Okay, so Tony is waiting for his family in this diner. He's watching every person who comes in and there are a lot of shots that cut to other customers. In particular we get a trucker pouring sugar into his coffee and a couple African-Americans checking out the jukebox, a shady-looking guy who sits at the counter, a few other families and couples. In the midst of all these shots, Carmella and A.J. walk in and the three of them are chatting. Meadow is shown out in the street trying to parallel park.

And there's tension. All these quick shots seem to be building to something. We're supposed to be suspicious of somebody. That guy at the counter is really bothering me. He seems to be looking at Tony funny. Everyone is just talking, but what else is going on? Tony, you need to watch out! Any one of these …

The Sopranos Finale

Hey! What happened to the cable?!

...Oh.

5 Things to Help Offset the Recent Fluff I've Tried to Pass Off as "Posting"

~I realized yesterday that my hometown's weird tradition of having fireworks the weekend after the 4th of July will this year fall on the same day as my stupid high school reunion. So I'll be in town either way because I really like their fireworks.

~9:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. tonight is Super Sacred Hour. I'm serious. Leave me alone for that hour. Stay away. STAY!

~If you're like me, you know that today marks the actual halfway point of the month. Why? Because it's the second Sunday of four. I'm sure that many pastors are nodding, and many normal people are shaking their heads in shame.

~Today's sermon will be a revamped version of one that I preached in Eden's chapel over three years ago. It's all about how, when graduation speakers mention "entering the real world," they're really really wrongly wrong in a wrong way.

~The Tigers are driving me nuts. They almost lost yesterday, but then Todd Jones SAVED~! them. I mean it...he ac…

Linkage

Read the rest of this post from Scott...

i realize i'm a loser. not in any "oh please email me and affirm me because i'm fishing for a compliment" kind of way. no thanks. what i am saying is that, for the first time in my life i have come to accept that i am not the front runner i once believed myself to be. i am not about to be "discovered". it has been a horrible thing to come to grips with. so late in life, so many moments wasted, living for approval. i am not the smartest, or the best communicator, the funniest, the best looking. denominations have not lined up begging to hire me, quite the contrary. there are no conferences to speak at, no ringing endorcements, no invitations to hang out with the cool postmodern gurus. only echos.

i'm happy. i'm realizing for the first time in my life that most people are losers by a hollywood definition. few of us are conference panelists. not many of us are christian superstars. we are vanilla people in a flavo…

Pop Culture Roundup

Yeah, it's a little early. I didn't think anyone would mind.

I recently started The Angry Christian by Andrew Lester. I'd heard nothing but good things about this book from a couple seminary buddies and figured I'd check it out for myself. So far, Lester has explored how anger is a neutral emotion that can be helpful or hurtful depending on the context. For instance, abuse as a result of anger would be hurtful, whereas anger at injustice and subsequent action is helpful. He spends a lot of time exploring the history of Christian thought that has decried emotion as misleading, arguing instead that emotion complements reason by adding passion to what one concludes. It's a good read.

As I mentioned earlier in the week, The Sopranos was a sad one. We see some major attacks on Tony's crew, including the loss of Bobby and Sil. As I said, it kind of sucks to see such longtime characters go down, especially in the fashion that they did. I felt kind of helpless watching …

June 1

I'm big on marking milestones and anniversaries. I have three or four that apply to my relationship with Mrs. Jeff. I have another half dozen or so that apply to my faith or ministry.

June 1st was one of those days. While it didn't mark three years at my current church, it does mark three years in full-time ministry.

Three years ago on that day I began a two-month stint at my home church while the pastor was on sabbatical. There was a slight overlap where he brought me up to speed on some pastoral care issues, and I can recall his turning to me at the end of the session and asking, "Well, how about you go stop by and see so-and-so while I go see so-and-so?" Here, with the ink barely dry on my M.Div, I remember having a moment of complete awe that this was really happening. For the next two months, I'd be this church's pastor. I had the benefit of support staff and a lighter summer schedule, but I was still The Pastor.

I remember sharing a concern that first day…

That Thing That Didn't Happen, Didn't Happen

I didn't write a post that I later didn't delete about something happening with something else. Nope. None of it happened. You're seeing things. What's wrong with you?

Anyway, I've altered my position on the thing that I didn't write about, because it seems that once I walk away that's when I want to continue. So instead of doing the thing that I didn't write about, I'm going to cut back. For you see, I still believe the thing I didn't write about to be true, but don't feel like stepping back completely.

The Sopranos made me sad last night. You spend so long with certain characters and then you watch them violently removed from the cast. Which actually makes you want certain other characters violently removed from the cast. Which says something about human nature and sin. Hey, I'm reading a book about anger right now. I'm sure this perfectly applies.

So the thing didn't happen, but it's still true. How is that possib…

Pop Culture Roundup

I finished Static, which I appreciate for making me think and getting me to look up some things in order to check it with his proposals. Now that I'm done with the book, I remember a phrase that kept popping up as Martoia attempts to present the meaning behind Jesus' words and the kingdom that he preached. Martoia presents this message and tries to strip away all of the Christian theological intertia surrounding it, but occasionally offers a caveat: "Now, Jesus did ultimately come to die in our place on the cross, but..." He never really shows how what he's presenting ties into this other claim that he wants to retain. Without the claim, this is a marvelous declaration that he makes about God working with creation to return it to Eden, salvation as a process of restoration instead of getting your heavenly ticket punched, and so on. And yet he insists on throwing in the above statement every once in a while as if to avoid any accusation that he's abandoning tr…