Monday, November 27, 2006

NT Wright podcast

How many times have you heard an internationally recognized New Testament scholar sing a Bob Dylan tune?

On top of that, there is some excellent theology going on here. You gotta check it out.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sermon: Reign of Christ the King - Year B

It’s no wonder Pilate could ignore him. It’s no wonder why we find it easier to follow Caesar’s view of the world rather than God’s.

It’s easier to buy expensive technological equipment to be “relevant” rather than engaging real, insufferably human, flesh-and-blood people.

It’s easier to demand that Hollywood tell our story rather than go face-to-face with someone who might reject us.

It’s easier to cozy up to power, demanding that the government adopt our agenda, rather than to do the real work of the church: loving unlovable people, and bringing Jesus’ message of new life and salvation to a broken, hurting, and sin-stained world.

But who ever said that...(whole thing here)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A mega-church downsizes... sending a nasty letter.

WINSTON-SALEM — Julie and Bob Clark were stunned to receive a letter from their church in July asking them to "participate in the life of the church" — or worship elsewhere.

"They basically called us freeloaders," says Julie.
"We were freeloaders," says Bob.

In a trend that may signal rough times for wallflower Christians, bellwether mega-church Faith Community of Winston-Salem has asked "non-participating members" to stop attending.

"No more Mr. Nice Church," says the executive pastor, newly hired from Cingular Wireless. "Bigger is not always better. Providing free services indefinitely to complacent Christians is not our mission."

"Freeloading" Christians were straining the church's nursery and facility resources and harming the church's ability to reach the lost, says the pastor.

"When your bottom line is saving souls, you get
impatient with people who interfere with that goal," he says.

Faith Community sent polite but firm letters to families who attend church services and "freebie events" but never volunteer, never tithe and do not belong to a small group or other ministry. The church estimates that of its 8,000 regular attendees, only half have volunteered in the past 3 years, and a third have never given to the church.

"Before now, we made people feel comfortable and welcome, and tried to coax them to give a little something in return," says a staff member. "That's changed. We're done being the community nanny."
Surprisingly, the move to dis-invite people has drawn positive response from men in the community who like the idea of an in-your-face church.

"I thought, 'A church that doesn't allow wussies — that rocks,'" says Bob Clark, who admires the church more since they told him to get lost.

He and Julie are now tithing and volunteering. "We've taken our place in church life," he says. •


via Chapel Chatter

UPDATE: it turns out that the news source of this is a parody. Too funny because it is too plausible.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sermon: Pentecost 24 - Year B

So, what do you think this gospel reading means? This past week at our pastors’ bible study we couldn’t decipher what Jesus was talking about. It’s like he was talking in code. That he wanted to warn his disciples of something but couldn’t quite get the words straight. So he defaulted to poetry hoping that these 12 guys might have the imagination to unlock the mystery of what can only been seen with divine eyes.

The passage says that they were on a mount opposite the Temple (capital “T”). Back in Jesus’ time the Temple was one of the most impressive sights you could lay our eyes on. Torn down twice since King Solomon first built it, the second re-building began shortly before the Shepherds saw the angel in the sky and the wise men found their way to Bethlehem. But it wasn’t finished until the Mary found the empty tomb.

You had to see the Temple to believe it. The stories didn’t do it justice. It had a perimeter circumference of almost a kilometre. Its 5 ton marble walls stood 150 feet high. 40-foot-high white marble columns greeted visitors as they arrived brandishing their sacrifices. Two of the doors stood 45 feet high; one was cast in Corinthian bronze. It’s no wonder they called it the “Beautiful Gate.”

I could go on but you get the idea. The temple was huge. It wasn’t coming down any time soon. That’s why Jesus sounded like he dipped into the ritual wines a little too often when he said that the temple was going to be destroyed and re-built in three days.

But still, religious wing-nuts were a shekel a dozen back then. But when you’re talking about the temple, people take you seriously no matter how crazy they think you are. Just as you don’t joke about having...(The whole thing here)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Christians. Can't live with 'em, can't...?

I have what I call “bad church days.” Days when I come within a nose hair of finding another job. Days when I get so frustrated with church life that I just want to walk away.

I had one of those days this past week.

But it’s certainly not because of my parish. Comic Book Guy should have a t’shirt made about my church saying “Best Congregation Ever.”

These folks bend over sideways to help me with my ministry. They pay me more than the recommended guidelines. I get in trouble when I work too many hours. They’re creative. They’re willing to try almost anything. The little squabbles we have (how we receive communion, chairs verses pews, etc) are tiny compared to the knock ‘em down, drag ‘em out, see you in hell, holy fist-fights that other churches have. I tell folks that Good Shepherd is the best kept secret in town.

So, it’s not my church. It’s my denomination.

I went to a meeting a few weeks ago. An angry, joyless meeting. It’s like some folks aren’t happy unless they’re righteously irate. It seems like their mission in life is to stamp out heresy rather than to proclaim good news, to complain about what the church is “doing wrong,” to make sure the church stays on the narrow path. It’s as if they love orthodox theology more than they love people.

It’s not to say that doctrine isn’t important. It is. But the way I read the gospels leads me to believe that Jesus was more interested in loving people than correcting their theology with a hammer.

It must have been absolutely galling for folks to hear a Samaritan – someone who bastardized the faith – being portrayed as a model of faithful living over a priest and Levite, those good, God-fearing church folks.

It must have been jarring for Jesus to point to a Roman officer, the enemy, the oppressor, the guy who worshipped Caesar instead of the God of Israel, being pointed to as more faithful than anyone among God’s chosen people. Especially when this Roman officer showed no sign of changing his life and following Jesus.

It must have been the last straw for folks when Jesus chose a friggin’ Tax Collector as one of his inner-circle. These guys were the worst of the worst. They collected money for the Roman oppressors, skimming some off the top. They had money. And they had enemies. Their own people saw them as traitorous. Their Roman bosses treated them like tools. They deserved a horse-whipping, not forgiveness, let alone to be loved.

But Jesus loved them. All of them. Did they change? Correct their theology? Become good church folks? Some did. Some didn’t. Didn’t matter. Jesus loved then anyway. Loved them enough to die for them.

And make no mistake. Jesus got angry sometimes. Really angry. It was usually directed know-it-all clergy and other church-types.

My tribe, Lutherans, we “Ortho-dogs” as one colleague put it, might re-learn something when we return to the scriptures. We might learn that theology is not something that dropped from the sky but has been the result of faithful Christians gathering together to figure out just what God wants from us.

We might learn that Jesus put people ahead of being theologically correct. We might learn that people are more able to receive God’s message of love and salvation if we haven’t beaten them up first.

Maybe Jesus was on to something when he said that the greatest commandment was “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and the second greatest commandment being “to love our neighbour as ourselves.”

What would our churches look like if that was our starting point? What would our world look like if we really believed it was true?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A conversation overheard at my house

Me (to our two-year-old, while opening a pistachio nut): I shouldn’t be eating these. Pistachios make daddy fat.

Our Two-year-old: But daddy, you’re already fat.


Unfortunately it’s true. I’ve become more corpulent over the last year, despite my best efforts. Well, maybe because my best efforts included more chicken wings and beer than I care to admit.

However, I’ve consulted with a nutritionist who put me on a “plan” to make better “food choices.” The goal is to fit back into my size 34 pants by Christmas, size 32 by Lent.

My flabby belly is telling me that I’ve taken more than my fair share of food. To me, it feels downright sinful to have packed on a dozen or two extra pounds when roughly 30 000 children die PER DAY of malnutrition and related diseases.

I’ll keep you updated.

Canadian Blog Awards - 2006

Voting is now open. If feel inclined to vote for my humble blog, that would be mighty neighbourly. (note: I'm listed under "Best Religious Blog)

But there are many worthy blogs on the list. My faves are Jordon Cooper's and Scott Williams' blogs.

Then again, I haven't had time to peruse the rest of the other nominees.

Friday, November 10, 2006

quit whining

we have so much and appreciate it so little.

i am shocked by how shallow i am.
how quick i complain.
how hard-done-by i can feel.
how easy it is to feel sorry for myself.

from scott.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

US Mid-term Elections

It’s Election Day in the USA, and I’m stocking up on munchies and beer to listen to the returns until I hear those magic words: The Democrats have re-taken Congress.

If the Dems do take both the House and Senate, it will be because of Republican scandals and the War in Iraq, not because they’re offering anything more compelling, a stark policy contrast or inspiring vision for the country.

When the Democrats win back Congress it will be because they are not Republicans. If I were an American GOP supporter, I’d be one of these guys.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Two More Martyrs

More from Brian Rude.

Dear friends:

Greetings in the spirit of Hebrews 12:1-3

Yesterday, Saturday, at about 5 p.m., two pastors of the Salvadoran Lutheran Synod, Francisco Carrillo (described and pictured in Esprit, Summer 2001, pp. 17 & 18) and his wife Jesús, were assassinated outside their church in Jayaque, department of Sonsonate, after worship. It appears to be a case of extortion related to church-funded projects. The all-night wake begins this afternoon, in the church in Jayaque, and the burial will be tomorrow, Monday, at 3 p.m. I expect to participate throughout. Their son Wilbur is a student pastor serving a parish in rural San Vicente. He lives in Jayaque with his family.

All three pastors incarnate the best of the Salvadoran Lutheran
Church, in terms of dedication, service and capability. I accompanied them throughout 2001, in their rebuilding after the earthquakes of Jan and Feb., and again for several days while hosting the displaced of Jayaque and area after Hurricane Stan struck in Oct. 2005. I was the beneficiary through such experiences. Their deaths are a tremendous loss to their family, congregation and community, as well as to the national church.

Please pray for the family, the congregation and community, and for this entire church and nation.

Brian Rude

2 de Noviembre -- Día de los Difuntos

This is an email from Pastor Brian Rude, our missionary to El Salvador. Shared with Brian's permission.

2 de Noviembre -- Día de los Difuntos

Day of the Deceased. As if El Salvador needs such a day. Every day in El Salvador seems to be the Day of the Dead. But a special day for everyone to commemorate their deceased? No doubt it is therapeutic, healing--spiritually, emotionally, socially. So everyone heads to the cemeteries on this day. The cemeteries are already over-crowded with the dead--the beaten, the bullet-ridden, the diseased . . . and the occasional "anciano" or "anciana" who has filled out his or her days, approximating fulfillment of God's promise for an abundant life. On this day, these "Camposantos" (Holy Grounds, cemeteries, graveyards) become yet more over-crowded, with the living, with the survivors, with the not-yet-murdered, with those who have not yet succumbed to one of many easily-curable, yet mortal-considering-the-circumstances diseases.

The settings are not always so therapeutic. Yesterday I drove by (below) the embankment of a cemetery which had collapsed onto this road below during a severe rainstorm a year ago. Skulls and bones had littered the roadway, a mystery and a delight to the many children living in the neighbourhood, a horror to the families of those scattered relatives, and a pain in numerous parts of the anatomy to the municipal graveyard-maintainers. Now, a year later, draped black plastic keeps more corpses from sliding down on to that road, covering commuters in a surprise "Day of the Deceased" encounter from above.

Death is never far removed from anyone living in El Salvador. At 12 murders per day (55 per 100,000 per year), almost anyone can expect to be affected at any moment. While in Canada in September, reading one of the daily Salvadoran newspapers on the Internet, I learned of the murder of a man (the names were reported that day only because there was an unusually high number of 18 murders) with the same name, of the same age, and from the same town as a good student / friend / colleague of mine throughout my 18 years in El Salvador. I didn't get any responses to my e-mails of enquiry. I did see this friend at church, quite alive, a couple weeks ago, unaware of the death of his "tocayo" (someone with the same name). The outcome was not such a relief in the case of an almost-housemate, a good friend of our household, who enriched our social and cultural lives, always with a classic movie in hand, an intriguing outing in mind or a wise and learned contribution to the discussion. An engineer with a successful career, he was murdered in what seems to have been a car / card / cellphone robbery in early September. Lutheran Bishop Gomez' nephew was murdered about 3 weeks ago, apparently in a car robbery, while resisting allowing the robbers access to his home and family. His 10-year-old son was allowed to escape, after witnessing the murder of his father. Last Sunday, another housemate was celebrating his graduation from law school at a dinner-party for almost 200 family members, friends and neighbours. The joy of this celebration was shattered by news received as we were leaving the party just after midnight. We learned of the murder of one of the invitees who had not attended, a friend and neighbour to most of those in attendance, just a block from the home of the graduate. While I often avoid parties, aware that they too often erupt into life-threatening scenarios, in this case this young man might still be alive if he had attended the party.

As distressing as the deaths themselves, are some of the reactions to these murders. In some cases the person is said to have been "pleitista" (argumentative) . . . as if that justifies or rationalizes murder. Or someone had just purchased a new car . . . so perhaps was asking for it, like a rape victim having provoked the rapist with the clothing she was wearing. Or: "he was such a good person . . . sure didn't deserve to be killed in such a brutal manner." As if there are those who do, in fact, deserve to be killed in such a way. The fatalism, the resignation, are most distressing. It is as if God willed these tragedies, or as if wayward human beings brought them on themselves. What will it take to re-sensitize an entire nation, an entire culture, to transform a culture of death into a culture of life?

Resistance and protest are only now beginning to manifest themselves. Ironically, it is the US Ambassador who has sparked some of this reaction over the past couple weeks. Of course, part of his strategy--which seems like an attempt to "Guantanamize" El Salvador, by throwing the remaining 12,000 gang members into prisons--hardly seems like an appropriate, wise, or even legal reaction to the crisis. Doubling the number of inmates in already seriously over-crowded prisons would be a recipe for further tragedy. Or is that what is desired? And isn't there some detail in modern law which requires a trial and a sentence before locking the masses up perpetually? There are still some in El Salvador who appreciate and want to protect the civilized advances of recent centuries (millenia), resisting such a retreat to the age of the Bushmen. And do such national leaders assume that the streets would thus be forever rid of all such "terrorist" elements, as if the contributing factors would be thrown behind bars along with the supposed malcreants, as if there were no youth or children--younger brothers, even sons--waiting to take their places, or even make the current predicament seem calm and controlled by comparison?

Then there's the nagging doubt about who really are the culprits, the "terrorists", as they're so readily labelled today. Who is really doing the killing, for starters? "Gang-related" crime statistics vary dramatically (between 75% and 15%), depending on whether you're listening to the President of the Republic, or reading the forensic lab reports. And there are no witnesses in El Salvador. Anyone with any instinct for survival keeps their eyes, their ears and their mouth shut . . . which seriously limits the already deficient investigative capacities of police and prosecuting attorneys. A witness protection plan has been discussed over the past year or more, but it's not likely that anyone would entrust his or her life--or the lives of their family--to such a plan, if ever it were put into place. The government's response to the US Ambassador's push for speedy resolution to the crisis, joined soon after by the business sector, was yet another law, against "organized crime", after being assured from all sides that their many new and improved laws have done nothing but exacerbate the crisis, and that existing laws are more than adequate, if there only existed the political will to address the roots of the crisis, and the real issues, which are numerous and complex--a challenge which will require the involvement of all sectors of society, a piece of wisdom which this self-proclaimed "government with human sense" resists viscerally.

The government's definition of "terrorist", for example, is hardly the one understood by the masses. Mothers blocking traffic, demanding drinking water for their babies, aren't necessarily understood by the public to be terrorists, though the president's new anti-terrorist law defines them as such. Those mothers might define as "terrorist" a government functionary who stole $100 million from the national water systerm, thus depriving their babies of drinking water, and ultimately of health and life. Yet said functionary is now--still--comfortably sheltered in Paris (France, that is, not Ontario), where, reportedly, he recently received a courtesy visit from El Salvador's anti-terrorist President, on his way to the Vatican.

We, and many others, continue to respond as we are able, the government's closed-ear, closed-door policies notwithstanding, hopeful that El Salvador's rates of violence and death will fall in line with global norms, someday soon. We continue to believe that every day of the year is "El Día de Los/as Vivos/as", the Day of the Living.

Paz y Vida,
Brian Rude
ELCIC Pastor / Missionary living and sharing life in El Salvador

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sermon: All Saints' - Year B

Aristotle complained that the act of writing diminished memory. He was concerned that once we write something down we don’t have to remember it anymore.

For folks like me, this sounds more like a godsend than a curse. Shopping lists. Phone numbers. Short reminder messages. All these things on little scraps of paper are, for me, as important to my getting along in the world as a telephone or toilet paper.

So maybe, I’m the living example that proves that Aristotle was right. We don’t need to tax our grey matter because we have pens and paper, or styluses and Blackberrys, to remember things for us.

But Aristotle worried that, even in writing down the most trivial lists, something is lost, a way of thinking, remembering, and relating – even a way of life - was given away.

Communications theorists say that this marked the transition from the Oral culture to the Literate culture. But in that transition, a link to the past was broken, a human connection marked by the simple act of one person telling another person a story.

Our Anglican and Roman Catholic friends say that the line through history that connects us with Jesus is bishops, because every bishop has had hands laid on them by other bishops, back through the centuries to the times of the apostles, even back to Peter himself. They call this “apostolic succession.”

But I wonder if God also works in less churchy ways. I wonder if the line that connects us from today back to Jesus’ time is...(the whole thing here)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Ted Haggard

No doubt, some foes of conservative evangelicals will squeal with delight over the scandal surrounding Ted Haggard, and his alleged tryst with a male prostitute. The hypocrisy is too craven if the standard bearer for traditional family values, and one of the most influential evangelical leaders is a closeted gay man. I look at Haggard’s situation with sadness because we have one two scenarios being played out here:

1.Haggard is guilty is charged. And this is not what the world needs, another fallen high-profile preacher. But more than that, his church, his marriage and family, and countless others who have been impacted by his ministry will be affected by this. That is not a cause to celebrate. If he’s guilty, he’s hurt many innocent by-standers.


2. Haggard is NOT guilty. And what we have is someone smearing a high profile person for his own political agenda, ruining someone’s reputation, and possibly his marriage. If this is the case, then progressive people need to come down on this sort of behaviour. Hard. If Haggard is innocent then it should be more difficult to ruin a guy's career.

Either way, Haggard, his church and his other ministries, as well as the male prostitute need our prayers.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Colder than a witch's...

I think last night was the coldest Halloween I’ve ever experienced. -15C. I was glad my wife went out with the girls instead of me. I wouldn’t have lasted more than a half hour. She took the kids out for two hours longer than I would have.

I was warming my tootsies inside, cozily reading a book. The doorbell rang only a handful of times, leaving a bucket full of Skittles resting comfortably on our front hall mantle.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again; my wife is made of better stuff than me. She deserves the leftover Skittles.