Saturday, December 29, 2007
1. Andy Rowell: A Th.D student at Duke Divinity. If I had the cash and the grade point average, that's the program I'd LOVE to take. Andy's blog has some excellent reflections on leadership, theology, and church life.
2. Jesus Creed: an Uber-blog by New Testament scholar Scot McKnight. Thoughtful reflections on post-modern theology and church expressions.
3. Tony Jones: National Coordinator of Emergent Village, a Ph.D student at Princeton, and writer of many books. He's a good link between mainline and evangelical emerging church types.
4. Kelly Fryer: Former ELCA pastor, now full-time church consultant.
5. Letters from Camp Krusty: I love this blog.
Check 'em out. Today.
I guess we ought to be of the same frame of mind as our cousin, King Herod. When he heard the word about the first Christmas, the Gospels say that he was filled with fear. Give Herod credit. He knew bad news when he heard it. He knew that the songs that the angels sang meant an attack upon his world, God taking sides with those on the margins, the people in the night out in the fields, the oppressed and the lowly.(The whole thing here)
But for the people up at the palace, the well fixed, the people on top, the masters of the Empire, Christmas was bad news. And many of them were perceptive enough to know it.
So maybe that is why we cover up Christmas with cheap sentimentally, turn it into a saccharine celebration. Maybe, in our heart of hearts, we know that Christmas means that God may not be with the Empire, but rather the Empire may be on a shaky foundation, and that, if we told the story straight, as the Bible tells it, we might have reason, like Herod (when he heard about the first Christmas) to fear.
I read some books, took the offspring tobogganing three times, ate stinky cheese, drank beer, and slept. A well needed mini-vacation.
But I felt my mini-vacation started during the second service on Christmas Eve. The first service (5:30) was a zoo. Every seat was filled. More seats were then added, which were filled immediately. 30 people were sitting along the edge of the sanctuary. I’ve never seen the church so full.
My eyes started to droop while watching folks pile in.
It’s been noted to me that the Holy Spirit gathers people to church on Christmas Eve. If they’re worshipping then, hey, it’s all to God’s glory.
So, why doesn’t God gather these same people on, say, Pentecost 21?
5:30 was a wonderful, energetic service. God was real and was being worshipped, rather than worshipping Christmas carols and Christmassy feelings.
But the 8:00 service was my service. At least where I was able to truly worship. The church was only about half full. No one was really singing to loudly – or at all. People were spread out all over the sanctuary rather than huddled together as a church family.
Nevertheless, God’s Spirit was stirring. And I found myself lost in worship. Which is rare for me. It wasn’t just because my sermon fit more snuggly in my mouth, or because I felt less pressure to “perform” when the crowd is smaller.
It was because God Spirit surprised me. Maybe that’s what Christmas is all about.
Monday, December 24, 2007
I wonder what it would have been like to have been there THAT day in Bethlehem, knee deep in straw and cow pucks, when Jesus was born.
Have you ever wondered that? Have you wondered what it would have been like to be a shepherd, out there in the dark, tending the flock, when angels appears out of nowhere, the glory of the Lord blasts you in the face, and you feel you’ll pass out with fear?
Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to be the three wise men, those astrologers who followed a distant star convinced it was leading them to some king’s birth, then stumbling upon a stable instead of a castle?
Have you ever wondered what it was like to be Mary, visited by an angel, chosen by God, getting pregnant without the requisite physical act, enduring her neighbours’ scornful taunts, before giving birth to God’s own Son who would save people from their sins?
The person I most wonder about is Joseph. I wonder what it would have been like to be him that day when Jesus was born. And part of the reason I wonder about Joseph is because we know so little about him.
Joseph appears at Jesus’ birth, then there’s the story about the holy family 12 years later when a precocious Jesus runs away to the temple. That’s it. That’s all we have of Joseph. We don’t know if Joseph died of old age or died too young, we don’t know how many children he and Mary had; nor do we know what kind of marriage he and Mary had, we don’t know what happened to Joseph after he finds Jesus in the temple arguing with theology professors. In fact, Joseph doesn’t get any lines in this story. He’s the strong, silent type. He doesn’t say anything.
In our Lutheran Book of Worship (or the “Green Book”), in all the Advent and Christmas hymns, Jesus is mentioned 309 times. The angels are mentioned 28 times. Mary 32 times. The shepherds, 21 times. But Joseph? Nowhere. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
I don’t know about you but I find that bizarre. But think of the Christmas pageants that churches put on every year. Joseph usually stands in the background, behind the manger, almost out of sight. Radiant beams shine from Mary’s holy face, the shepherds bow on bended knee, the wise men parade to the manger bearing gifts befitting a Messiah-king. But Joseph? Joseph just stands there like a lump, leaning against his staff, trying to stay out of the way.
I should know. I played Joseph one year in the Christmas pageant growing up. When I was asked I thought it was a tremendous honour. But then I was told that my only job was to walk the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Mary down the middle aisle, sit her down, and then get out of the way so not to block the real action. I didn’t even have to look holy because no one was looking at me. Joseph is scenery. A bit player. The piece to finish the perfect family picture.
That’s why I wonder so much about Joseph. He’s a mystery. I wonder what kind of dad he was. What kind of fatherly advice he gave Jesus. If he helped Jesus with his homework. If he arm wrestled with Jesus, threw a ball around, fought with Jesus about curfew, or embarrassed Jesus when he brought girls home.
And I wonder if, at the stable at Bethlehem, as his wife was giving birth to a baby that wasn’t his; I wonder if he…(the whole thing here)
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Today’s gospel reading sounds so ethereal, so airy-fairy that we might forget how much dirt soiled Mary’s sandals.
At least that’s how I usually hear the story. Stained-glass versions of this story tend to forget just how earthy this encounter between Mary and the angel is.
Who could blame folks for wanting to spiritualize this story? It has all the ingredients of a really cool movie: an angel calling a young, unsuspecting, unassuming woman to bear a divine child. An angry fiancé. A mysterious dream saving the young woman from certain death. It’s so fanciful that it can’t possibly be true, right?
And that’s what some folks have said.
I have...(the rest here)
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Me: Yeah, I suppose so.
OTYO: Taller than mommy and daddy, right?
OTYO: God is taller than anyone in the world, right?
OTYO: God is even bigger than the BOOGEY MAN!
OTYO: Wow. Even bigger than the boogey man. That's BIG!
Monday, December 17, 2007
The images and prophecies connected with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the biblical book of Revelation seem horrifying enough. But in a "you-ain't-seen-nothing-yet" spirit, Philip Jenkins in December 10th's New Republic warns of disastrous implications for religious conflict after studying the results of climate-modeling by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
More than anyone else we read, Jenkins regularly writes about global Christianity for broad publics. He combines experiences of travel, research, and dialogues on Christianity "north" and "south." In "Burning at the Stake: How global warming will increase religious strife," Professor Jenkins ties projections of Christian growth to what the IPCC foresees. If you'd like to sleep easily tonight, don't read it at bedtime. Rather than occupying a mere four columns upfront in a magazine, it might merit a billboard. Jenkins, fortunately, does not waste readers' time debating whether or when or how global warming is coming about. Instead he anticipates the consequences and notices some new Christian addresses to the situation.
The case? Take only the instance of changes in the water supplies and who will control what's left. In Nigeria, where Christians and Muslims are self-segregated, they might "erupt in a violent tug-of-war over limited water supplies." Coptic Christians in Egypt might be sacrificed to ethnic cleansing as resources dwindle. Uganda and Kenya could reproduce scenes made vivid in Rwanda massacres. "The ramifications for the global warming-driven destruction of equatorial nations are frightening for everyone—but they should be especially frightening for Christians," whose numbers grow explosively, precisely there.
Historian Jenkins reaches back to the "Little Ice Age" between the ninth and thirteenth centuries to show the human devastations caused by climate changes. He may be a bit speculative here, but with creative guesses and some evidence he compares foreseen changes to those that helped bring on the Great Famine (after 1315) and the Black Death (1340s), when one-third of Eurasia's population was killed. Witchcraft trials became a murderous obsession. Bigots of all religions were sure that their God was legitimating their aggressive roles. Christians in revenge against Muslim advances turned murderous. Jenkins thinks that we are heading toward a future alike in violence and horror to centuries in our past.
He sees a glimmer of light and recognition in the West among "morally conservative churches in America [which] form relationships with like-minded churches in the South," and are growing more sensitive to the world's needs. Skipping past Roman Catholic and "World Council type" Protestant and Orthodox involvements, he turns to these conservatives, as in the National Association of Evangelicals, who are mobilizing people, forces, energies, and resources to begin to address the situation and call attention to it. He expects even greater involvement soon by such conservative Christians, who are "combining the themes of world stewardship and protecting Christian minorities," which could lead to new political action. But in the absence of such action, might global warming lead to "medieval levels of misery and doom for the majority of Christians worldwide?" We've been warned.
from Sightings, a publication of the Martin Marty Center
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Zeffirelli says Pope Benedict, elected in 2005, "comes across coldly, which isn't suited to his surroundings" and added that his wardrobe "should be reviewed".(whole thing here)
The 84-year-old director of the 1977 miniseries Jesus of Nazareth and 1968 film Romeo and Juliet says the Pope's robes are "too sumptuous and flashy".
He says they should instead reflect "the simplicity and sobriety seen in the other echelons of the Church".
Is image consulting manipulation? Or is it getting your message across more effectively?
I dunno. I'm just asking.
About 15 years ago I wondered openly if God was calling me to a monastery. I was chest deep in Thomas Merton’s writings and thought I might be hearing God calling out to me through them.
Thomas Merton, as many of you know, was a Trappist monk who lived at the Monastery of Our Lady of Gethsemane outside of Louisville, Kentucky. Like all Trappist monks, when he took his religious name, he took the name “Maria” which was abbreviated to “M” to be placed before his religious name, which was Louis. So, in the monastery, he was Father M. Louis Merton.
He wrote a small library about the spiritual life, especially about monastic spirituality. His spiritual journal The Sign of Jonas was formative in my maturing as a Christian. I was able to overlook the Mary stuff in his writings because it wasn’t in your face. Mary’s shadow lurked in the corners of his theology. Merton wrote so movingly about the spiritual life that I wondered if God was asking me to spend my life praying in a monastery.
So, like the bible says, I sought to “test the spirits” to see if they were from God or from my own feeble imagination. Being an impressionable twentysomething, folks wiser than I suggested I visit a monastery.
So I did. In fact, two of them. Holy Cross Priory, an Anglican monastery in Toronto, and the St. Augustine’s House, a Lutheran order in Oxford, Michigan. Down the road from St. Augustine’s House was a larger, Catholic, Benedictine Order of Monks who had a special relationship with their Lutheran brothers (and sisters) a block away. The two groups of monks would occasionally meet at early evening for vespers.
So, a group of us wandered down the road one night to pray with the Catholics. We arrived just before supper and were invited to stay and eat with them. So we gathered around the table to pray. I was expecting maybe a bible reading, or a psalm, or a hymn, something like we do as Lutherans.
But no. This little band of monks began a boisterous prayer to MARY, thanking HER for her provisions.
My protestant blood curdled in my veins. It wasn’t an appropriate prayer, I thought. It felt like we were putting Mary where Jesus or God should be.
On the way out the door we passed a small side-chapel where a statue of Mary spread her arms over a tiny altar. Well-worn kneelers at the foot of the altar invited the passerby to say a prayer and light a candle. Which a few people from our group did. Including the Lutheran abbot and a few Lutheran pastors.
My Lutheran innards clenched in protest. Lutherans do not kneel before anyone other than before Christ.
That’s when I realized that God probably wasn’t asking me to be a monk. Thomas Merton’s writings may have led me as far as they could. Now it was time to find another spiritual guide.
So I...(read the whole thing here)
Monday, December 10, 2007
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Unbelievable. Read the whole blasphemous package here.
Our family tries to buy organic food, grow some of our own veggies, eat healthily, and generally make positive life choices. But given my belly protruding over my belt, my wife makes better choices than me. So what else is new?
via Heather's Facebook Superwall.
When psalms surprise me with their music
And antiphons turn to rum
The Spirit sings; the bottom drops out of my soul.
And from the center of my cellar, Love,
louder than thunder
Opens a heaven of naked air.
New eyes awaken.
I send Love's name into the world with wings
And songs grow up around me like a jungle.
Choirs of all creatures sing the tunes
Your Spirit played in Eden.
Thomas Merton. [Selection from] "Psalm" in The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton. New York: New Directions Publishing Co., 1977: 220- 221.
Friday, December 07, 2007
Thursday, December 06, 2007
* God was REAL in these places. People talked about God in first order language. In other words, they talked about God like they KNEW God personally (instead of just knowing "about" God) and like God was DOING STUFF in their lives, in their congregation, in their communities, and in our world.
* There was a deep and real commitment to the priesthood of all believers. People didn't expect their congregation or their pastor to "take care of them." Rather, they understood that being a Christian means being a disciple of Jesus everywhere they go! They embraced "ministry" as something they are responsible for.
* The Bible mattered. People read it. They talked easily about Biblical stories and SAW themselves in those stories. These stories seemed to provide the framework for everything they did, thought, said, decided, and dreamed.
* People, especially the leaders, were pragmatic. And this pragmatism was rooted in their commitment to reaching people for transformation. They really believe that to be the church is to share the message of Jesus with everyone. And, so, they paid attention to what "worked." And they were willing to change the way they did things if they thought something would "work" better.
* They expected something to HAPPEN! They really believed that God changes lives. People are TRANSFORMED when God gets a hold of them. The Holy Spirit was on the loose in these places! You could FEEL it.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Put on your yalmulka,
Here comes Chanukah.
So much funn-ukah,
To celebrate Chanukah.
And so they kept the dedication of the altar eight days and offered burnt offerings with gladness, and sacrificed the sacrifice of deliverance and praise. They decked also the forefront of the temple with crowns of gold, and with shields; and the gates and the chambers they renewed, and hanged doors upon them. Thus was there very great gladness among the people, for that the reproach of the heathen was put away. Moreover Judas and his brethren with the whole congregation of Israel ordained, that the days of the dedication of the altar should be kept in their season from year to year by the space of eight days, from the five and twentieth day of the month Casleu, with mirth and gladness. (1 Maccabees 4:56-59)
For an overview of Hanukkah click here.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
On my shelf I have two kinds of books. 1) those that proclaim mainline decline as divine tough love. 2) those who say the death of mainline churches is greatly exaggerated.
I think they’re both right.
I used to be all about the numbers. Actually, I still am. Sort of. I’ve been suspicious of convenient - Righteous Remnant – theology that lets Christians off the evangelistic hook. In fact, I’ve heard one person say, “If your church is growing then you need to ask yourself what you’re doing wrong.”
I wonder what mistake the Apostles were making in the Book of Acts.
However, I’m equally suspicious of growth-at-any-cost evangelism. I’ve read 30 or 40 church growth books (really!) and some are better than others. But none of them ask important questions. Well, questions I ask.
Most say that the church needs to engage culture, to use the tools of the culture to make the gospel “relevant” (a buzzword that just won’t die). We need to speak the culture’s language, they say. Otherwise the uninitiated won’t understand Jesus’ message.
But I wonder, at what point do we go from using culture as a tool, to changing culture, transforming the world. To being swallowed whole by it. Is culture sinful? If so, how? If not, then how far does sin extend into the world.
I’ve always felt queasy about too many trappings of culture in churches. Multi-media, theatre lighting, cool websites, Passion of the Christ showings. Does the medium commandeer the message? Do cultural trappings merely say to the world: see, we’re not so different? Come and join us and you won’t be asked to change. Except for your sex life. Maybe.
Or are we simply baptizing consumer culture, and Christianity becomes just another commodity, an accessory, an add-on, one more thing to do?
I lie awake worrying about this. If we truly follow the poor, homeless rabbi from the sticks, then shouldn’t our lives reflect the one whose name we bear? Maybe we should be meeting in parks instead of palaces, homes instead of holy-mansions. In the backrooms of bars. At Starbucks.
(I write this just as my church will looking to raise a million dollars for a new building. This makes me a first-class hypocrite. So, what else is new?)
If mainline Protestantism is in decline, then maybe God is culling the herd, clearing the deadwood, knocking us down a couple pegs. Maybe God is asking us to do more with less. The whole loaves and fishes thing.
After all, look what the disciples were able to do without cathedrals or PowerPoint. Look what Jesus was able to do with only his message - and the gift of himself.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Looks like literally nothing is sacred. A new report by the National Labor Committee reveals that crucifixes for sale at major religious institutions such as St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Trinity Church in New York City were made in Chinese sweatshops.
Distributed by the Association for Christian Retail, the items are not labeled “Made in China.” In fact, they sometimes seems to be labeled “Made in Italy,” according to National Labor Committee Director Charles Kernaghan. Following a National Labor Committee press conference yesterday outside St. Patrick’s announcing the report, Kernaghan said both St. Patrick’s and Trinity pulled the items from their store shelves…
The report, “Today Workers Bear the Cross: Crucifixes Made Under Horrific Sweatshop Conditions in China,” notes that the workers who make the crucifixes are paid just 26½ cents an hour, less than half China’s legal minimum wage of 55 cents, which is itself set at below subsistence levels. read more…
I can't help but think of this:
I can't stand your religious meetings, [says the Lord]
I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions.I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals.
I'm sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making.
I've had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice - oceans of it.
I want fairness - rivers of it. That's what I want. That's all I want.(Amos 5:21-24, The Message)
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Friday, November 16, 2007
November is the WORST time to take a vacation. But then, again, is there ever a good time?
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Friday, November 09, 2007
Take a look around. Bookmark my humble blog. Send it to your friends. Make it your homepage.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
But I’m trying to become more disciplined. One barometer of life’s disarray is my desk. When it’s clean I’m in control. When it’s messy, I’m heading off a bridge, snout first.
Now, my desk is semi-clean.
So, I’m putting my life back in order. I’m devising a plan which will include all facets of my life: work, home, study, exercise, nutrition.
I’ll keep you updated.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Happy All Hallows Eve!
UPDATE: Fox 'News' is Declaring a War on Halloween.
"Halloween is a liberal holiday" - Sean Hannity. Oct 31, 2007
From the October 31 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:
HANNITY [commenting on a satirical cartoon from The Onion] : You know what? I totally agree. I've got two young kids, and I am the food police. And I'm constantly monitoring what they eat.
GERALDO RIVERA (Fox News host): And but for your involvement, wouldn't they eat the worst stuff?
HANNITY: Chicken nuggets, pizza, cake, cupcakes, junk food --
RIVERA: Of course. There's not -- there's not a night where I'm out where they have the choice of what they order out that they ordered something that's bad for them. Always.
HANNITY: By the way, Halloween is a liberal holiday, because we're teaching our children --
COLMES: Oh, come on. Please.
HANNITY: -- to beg for something for free.
RIVERA: Do you notice I wore my costume? I wore my mustache tonight.
HANNITY: Hey, by the way, I heard Mike [Jerrick] on [the Fox-syndicated The Morning Show with] Mike & Juliet dressed as you.
COLMES: By the way, I'm going this Halloween as a Republican. I'm taking candy away from people.
Don't believe me? Watch it here:
via Crooks and Liars
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
created with QuizFarm.com
|You scored as Luther|
You are Martin Luther. You'll stick with the words of Scripture, and defend this with earthy expressions. You believe this is a necessary consequence of an orthodox Christology. You believe that the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ, but aren't too sure about where he goes after the meal, and so you don't accept reservation of the Blessed Sacrament or Eucharistic devotions.
via "Orthodox" Erin
Monday, October 22, 2007
...One of my favorite prayers doesn’t come from those luxuriously poetic Celtic prayer books I keep on my shelf, or even from the utilitarian prayers we find in our worship books.
One of my favorite prayers comes from Homer Simpson. Before you tune me out, let me explain. One Thanksgiving while offering table grace, Homer loses it, offering thanks for “the occasional moments of peace and love our family has experienced…well, not today. You saw what happened. O Lord, be honest! Are we the most pathetic family in the world or what!?”
To which the family offers a hearty “Amen!” Prompting Selma, Homer’s sister-in-law to mutter out loud “Worst. Prayer. Yet.”
And we -the audience - are supposed to agree with Selma’s assessment and laugh at Homer’s obnoxiously inappropriate prayer. Because, by polite standards, that prayer was a joke.
But I thought, “Wow! What a...(read whole thing here)
Monday, October 15, 2007
...I noticed that Lindsey has a picture of Mother Teresa on t’shirt with the caption, “Super Model” on it. Indeed, Mother Teresa is a super model for us to have as someone who lived her faith heroically, amidst the dying in the poorest parts of the world. Definitely, a “one.”
But, chances are you’re not going to abandon everything here in Lethbridge to devote your lives to serving the poorest of the poor half-way across the planet.
But lately we’ve been hearing that her diaries have surfaced, showing a woman suffering from tormenting doubt. We hear that her relationship with God was often strained or even estranged. That she shook her fist at who she thought was an absentee Saviour.
Some religious pundits are tearing their eyebrows out over this because they say that hearing about Mother Teresa’s doubt stains her memory and taints her legacy. It might stall the process of her becoming a Saint. We shouldn’t talk about the agonizing doubt of someone who lived so heroically faithful.
But I think...(the whole thing here)
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Thursday, October 11, 2007
I was looking forward to the time by myself. Actually getting to bed at a decent time without wrestling the offspring into their ‘jammy-jams. Reading in the quiet solitude of my living room, sipping a beer, before retiring to the basement to watch grown men bash each others’ brains out with hockey sticks.
Ah, the good things.
But I hit a snag. The house was TOO quiet. My plan lay in shambles at my feet. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I couldn’t sit still. My stack of books remained untouched. Even this little blog went un-updated.
What was going on?
It seems that I need my family’s presence, physical or metaphysical, to ground me into my routine. Or to simply get me out of bed.
Have I fallen into a rut? A hole that’s a centimetre too deep to climb out of?
It seems so. As soon as the wife and kids arrived home everything fell back into place. My routine re-established itself. Life resumed.
Am I going nuts? Becoming co-dependant? Reverting to an earlier state when I had to be told what to do and when to do it?
What was going on?
A pastor-friend once told me that I shouldn’t find my identity in anything other than myself and what I make of my life. It wasn’t original with him, but seems to be conventional wisdom among certain brands of church leaders.
While community is extolled as a moral virtue, the romance of idealized individual plotting his/her own life course is summoned as personal imperative.
I shouldn’t find my identity in my job, even if it’s in the church, he said. What happens when I lose it? I am more than my job, I was told.
I shouldn’t find my identity in my friends. Friends pass away.
I shouldn’t find my identity in my family because my Family of Origin weighs me down with too much baggage.
I shouldn’t find my identity as a parent. For that’s too oppressive to my children.
I shouldn’t find my identity as a husband. For that’s chaining my wife to MY happiness.
So where DO I find my identity?
Someone more pious than myself might say that I find my identity as a follower of Jesus. And that’s all that I need.
Perhaps. But even Jesus couldn’t imagine life without his friends. Why would he want to?
I read someone say somewhere that if someone took away his family, his church, his job, or his friends, there would be little of “him” left.
That sounds right to me.
So, maybe my rut is a happy rut. Or maybe it’s not a rut at all. Maybe it’s the interweaving details of life that pull together to make me who I am.
I am my job. I am my friendships. I am my family. I am a husband and a dad.
Take any of these away from me and I’m no longer fully me. Diminish any of these relationships and you’ve got a recipe for loneliness. Or even alienation.
That’s why I grieve when a relationship is lost. When I change churches. When I lose contact with friends. When my family goes to Edmonton. And that's okay. That's what's supposed to happen.
Maybe that’s why I like to watch grown men bash each other with hockey sticks.
Friday, October 05, 2007
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
If we could all
just stop throwing stones,
and stoop, knees bent
and write in the dust,
we'd see that the dust
was once stone -
grand, and hard, and proud, and tough -
now ground and dissolved
in grace and tears.
So... how much better
to be a grain of dirt
on that kind prophet’s hands
than a stone
in the cold, accusing Temple
of the pure.
Monday, October 01, 2007
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Someone once said that if you want to find out who the Christians are, just ask the poor. They’ll be able to tell you.
That’s the challenge that’s thrown at our feet in today’s gospel reading. Jesus wants us to help poor people. That’s no surprise. We’ve heard that so many times that maybe that message has grown as stale a week-old-mug-of-beer. Luke can’t stop talking about poor people. He’s like your obnoxious hippie cousin who still lives in the summer of love, even though he was born in 1978.
Luke is suggesting that our salvation has something to do with how we treat those who need our help.
At least that’s what it sounds like in today’s gospel. To get a sense of the priority Jesus places on helping poor folks, just look at this text. This is the only place in scripture where Jesus identifies someone explicitly before sending them to Hell.
And it’s not because he didn’t have faith in Jesus. It’s not because he wasn’t baptized. It wasn’t because he couldn’t keep his zipper zipped.
The rich man is sent to Hell because he ignored a poor person who needed help.
It’s a hard story to listen to. Where most of the world lives on less than $2.00 a day, this story is directed squarely at us.
This is rich vs poor. There’s no getting around it. And Jesus sets up the story in a way that would make Rush Limbaugh’s...(the whole thing here)
Sunday, September 23, 2007
I read a lot of business books. I find them to be the best source of cultural criticism around. I read them much to the chagrin of my leftier friends and colleagues.
Some books are dry and academic, filled with charts and stats that make my eyes crust over.
Others are the motivational type. Tony Robbins on caffeine pills. These books make my wife roll her eyes in either amusement or bemusement. I can’t tell which.
Most are feet-on-the-pavement practical. Which is the chief reason I read them.
I started reading these books while I was an intern. Which was new for me because I was told that business was about money. Period. And money meant greed. Greed meant oppression. And God wasn’t into greed and oppression. So whatever businesspeople brought to the church table was to be resisted or shunned. At least, that’s what my mentors and professors preached. And I drank the Kool-Aid. I believed unquestioningly.
But suddenly, I wasn’t in a classroom anymore. I wasn’t surrounded by folks who believed what I believed, where we could be as sanctimoniously abstract about the world as we wanted.
Where we could debate the finer points of theology, never letting the messiness of real-world-living interrupt our dissection of a bible verse - in the original Greek, of course.
Where we could pontificate about how sinful the world was – the world being large corporations and certain brands of politicians. Sinners.
The business world and their puppets in Parliament sullied the purity of the church world and were destroying the whole world.
Then I found myself immersed in a church where people expected more than jabbering. Nor were they interested in the self-righteous musings of a snooty-nosed kid who never had a real job. They wanted something more spiritually cavernous than hoity-toity thoughts about God or angry political sloganeering.
They wanted me to DO SOMETHING for the Kingdom. All of a sudden I had programs to develop, meetings to chair, and ministries to oversee. I had people to visit and prayers to pray. And no one was going to hold my hand along the way!
My supervisor then played the best trick – ever - on me. He showed...(the rest here)
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Monday, September 17, 2007
In his book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, writer Ron Sider says "too much Christian social action is ineffective because Christian leaders call on government to legislate what they cannot persuade their church members to live." When I worked with politicians, we knew that petitions or motions passed with no follow-up meant nothing. However, if an organization sent evidence of its positive work in the community and asked for government funding, that always provoked a serious response.
Michael Poworoznyk, executive director of Metro Turning Point Centre, challenged 34 Christians (half from St. Luke’s United in Upper Tantallon and half friends of ours who wanted this experience) who walked the streets of Halifax’s inner city last Friday to consider what we would do if we had found our way to the city at age 15, having been sexually abused, distrusting authority, feeling angry and lost. We walked the streets together, asking ourselves: Where would we go? What would we do?
There are a range of services for the poor in Halifax’s uptown core. Often, these are poorly co-ordinated, underfunded and squeezed into one small section of our city. If we Christians see ourselves as disciples living out our witness, it is easy to see our current power structures as an empire, institutionally biased to protect the status quo.
But how do we confront that empire, the system that maintains an unequal distribution of wealth and power? After all, wasn’t it only a few weeks ago that North America’s leaders met behind closed doors with wealthy elites to discuss how this empire should go forward?
Christians are called to be prophets and advocates for the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed. There are more verses in the Bible on wealth than almost any other topic. Yet most sermons preached in our North American churches deal with sexual morality (fundamentalists), personal piety (traditionalists) or sentimental narcissism (liberals).
But surely we are called to confront not only governments and their policies (for starters, raising the level of social assistance and the national child benefit, and providing more social housing), but also to do as Sider suggests: lead by example. I know several Canadian churches that used their parking lots to create social housing units. St. George’s Anglican Church runs the amazing "Humanities 101." These actions make a statement to the general public and the government of the day. They prove that solidarity can and does work.
Some might suggest these approaches let the government off the hook. That may be true for passive supports; but my sense is the more Christians are directly involved in transformational ministry with the marginalized, the more governments can see positive results and feel compelled to join in. What social activists often fail to understand is that advocacy that is primarily confined to the call for entitlement programs does not address what is at the core of Christian and government inaction: a sense of hopelessness.
As long as people think the quest to reduce poverty is hopeless, they will fail to act, personally or collectively. Activists wring their hands and point to perpetual injustice; the middle-class gate their communities and quietly say to themselves, "Nothing will ever change." To break free from this, we need stories of solidarity, of liberation, or the momentum for justice can never get traction. Faith leads to imagination, which leads to sharing, which leads to a plan, which leads to action, which leads to transformation, which leads to hope.
Everywhere we walked Friday night, there was evidence of banks, grocery chains, and now even churches abandoning this neighbourhood. Churches with deep pockets and trust funds can continue on in spite of buildings that are nine-tenths empty, but churches here cannot.
I am sure the people I serve are tired of hearing that church is about mission, not buildings. We have a wonderful multi-purpose sanctuary, one that we gladly share with another denomination. But the bottom line is that the strength of our witness is less about that splendid structure and more about the call to transform the community we live in.
My own denomination’s transformational opportunity is Brunswick Street Mission. One morning a week at the 6 a.m. breakfast, I look forward to the relationships I share with the guests and volunteers. After breakfast, we gather in a garden created and cared for by these men and women, and we pray. Later, some of us study the Bible. Here we resolve to be agents of transformation in a broken world.
One way to financially assist the Mission with its work is to join The St. Luke’s Players, our youth drama team, as they perform The Cotton Patch Gospel on Friday, Sept. 14, at 7 p.m. at Brunswick Street United Church. The musical asks the question: What if Jesus came to the southern states in the 1950s? What would that look like? It’s edgy, fun and, most of all, the music soars.
Some of the cast walked with us last Friday. Most have spent their lives in the suburbs. The context Michael provided will no doubt ground their performance. But more than that, each of us saw on that evening what Michael and his staff offer the 65 people who sleep every night at the Turning Point: advocacy, solidarity, respect, dignity, hope. These are qualities we seek to persuade our fellow church members to live.
Kevin Little is a United Church minister living in the Halifax Regional Municipality.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
I once heard a bonehead preacher rant about lonely people. “If they had a good relationship with God then they would never be lonely because God is our best friend!”
It was his way of telling randy university students that boyfriend/girlfriend relationships are not the epicenter of the known galaxy. “You don’t need a boyfriend,” he spewed. “All you need is Jesus. Let Jesus be your boyfriend.”
I guess he missed that part of the creation story where it said that it wasn’t good for the man to be alone. I’m guessing this applies to women as well.
But Gnostic heresies aside. I often hear the same sorts of things coming from pastors as it relates to their work.
“Don’t worry about results, just preach the gospel.”
“I don’t play the numbers game.”
And my fave:
“Jesus didn’t call us to be successful; he called us to be faithful.”
In other words, don’t blame the tree if it doesn’t bear fruit.
Of course, there’s truth in all these statements. We preach but it’s the Holy Spirit who convicts, numbers don’t tell the whole story, and Jesus does call us to be faithful.
But I know I’ve said each one of these things to justify ineffectiveness in my work. If the church is declining I can say that it’s God’s fault, not mine. More Gnostic heresies.
But as Lutherans – or Protestants in general – we’re stymied by our theology. Our theology tells us that salvation is by God’s grace, God’s initiative, God’s forgiveness. And we’re simply passive recipients of God’s saving love.
And while that’s true and I whole-heartedly affirm it, I also wonder if we inappropriately push that theology into our jobs. If God does everything, what does God need us for?
But if our churches are growing, we’re accused of selling out the gospel and buying into the consumer mindset that says that bigger is better. We must be telling people what they want to hear instead of proclaiming Jesus' hard road of salvation. It seems that for some church folks, the best churches have no people and fewer Christians.
The way I see it is that pastors, especially those of the mainline variety, are doing the wrong things. I think our job is to model the kind of discipleship we want to see in our congregations. But spend our time doing things that don't bear fruit. Endless committee meetings. Administrative trivia. Surfing the internet.
Instead, we should be visiting, connecting church resources to community needs, teaching our people how to use their gifts for God's glory, doing personal evangelism and prophetic witness.
But too often, our sermons are hastily thrown down on paper on the way to bed on Saturday night. We put our iPods in our ears as we walk down the street so we won't be accosted. And our people's gifts, our best resources aside from the Holy Spirit, go unused.
I know I all this because this describes me. There are folks in my church who are better Christians than I am. And God bless ‘em.
But that’s the challenge, nonetheless. As pastors we cannot abdicate this responsibility. It’s not that we are the most holy or spiritual. It’s that God has asked us to shepherd God’s flock. God has asked us to be leaders.
And we lead best with our lives.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
But when I’m up, I’m up. I can’t get back to sleep. So I watched a few West Wing episodes and crawled back to the bed at 2:30. But stared at the clock until 4:00 or so.
8:00 came mighty early this morning. Thank God for strong java.
Sunday, September 09, 2007
This is a message I can’t spin. I can’t put lipstick on it and send it out to shake its money maker. I just have to let it tell its story.
Jesus is saying that we are to live a different life than the one we may have been taught, a life that’s an assault on the values of our culture.
Where the culture is obsessed with...(The whole thing here)
Thursday, September 06, 2007
WARNING: The cord(s) included with this product may contain chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. Wash hands after handling.
Has anyone else heard of this? I'm taking this back to the store tomorrow. What on earth are the manufacturers thinking?
Sunday, September 02, 2007
She started off at St. John’s as a “patron” as they were called. She came looking for a sandwich and became the manager -and an Anglican – in that order, along the way.
“So you want me to sit with folks and clear tables, stack chairs, that sort of thing?” I asked.
“No, I mean your job is to sit at the table, eat your lunch, and talk to people.”
“That doesn’t sound like much of a job. Wouldn’t you rather I helped out with the cooking?”
“No. You don’t get to cook until you know who you’re cooking for,” she said, walking me to a table at the back.
“This is Kevin,” she announced to the three guys sitting together, “he’s new, so I want you to be...(read the whole thing here)
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Who’s busier? Who prayed at the most hospital beds? Who stood at the most gravesites? Who endured the longest, most pointless meeting?
That’s what clergy talk about when we get together. Sad, isn’t it? It's no wonder so many clergy are taking early retirement, gobbling down Paxil, or hitting the bottle.
My bishop has mounted a jihad against clergy burnout. He’s loosing too many clergy to other, “less stressful,” jobs. One pastor retired to sell Audis. One young pastor walked away from his parish to take an MBA. Yet another hung up his collar to tinker with muscle cars all day. Some are just grabbing their pension and running.
Clergy are leaving. Like rats on the Lusitania.
Bishop Ron is worried that if the trend continues there won’t be any pastors left to serve our churches. Especially in the rural areas. After all, there are 33 churches without pastors here in Alberta. Something needs to be done.
Part of his solution is that pastors need to take better care of themselves. Clergy need to take our day off. Take ALL our vacation. Eat right and exercise. We need to remember the Sabbath.
Problem solved , right?
I had a colleague back in Ontario who so internalized this advice that he wouldn’t respond to an emergency on his day off. “Sorry about the car accident, but it’s my day off. Grandpa will still be dead tomorrow morning, right?”
Is that what Jesus meant when he asked up to keep the Sabbath holy?
I don’t think that the issue is too many suppers away from home. I think the clergy are suffering a crisis of meaning. Many of us don’t know what we’re doing, or why.
We think that if we’re busy, then we’re needed. And if we’re needed, then we’re important. If we’re important, then our work matters to the world.
So, with deference to Bishop Ron’s injunction against clergy burn out, I think we need to look deeper at who we are and what we do we a church. We don’t have the culture’s respect like we once did.
It’s been noted that clergy don’t have the social status that they once had. Nor are we the most educated people in our parish – or town – like we were just 30 – 40 years ago.
So that might help root out those who are doing “the Lord’s work” for their own egos. But where does that leave the rest of us? Those who are labouring in God’s vineyard until
our hands are raw and faces scorched from the wind?
Bishop Mike from the east said that pastors are those who keep the embers burning, stoking the fire, feeding it occasionally. I like that. Sort of. But I’d like to chase a more challenging goal than keeping the light from blowing out. I want to see it grow.
Sometimes I wonder if we read about Jeff Immelt walking on organizational water, Steve Jobs “putting a dent in the universe,” or Gary Doer winning his third straight majority, we wonder what our payoff is.
Conversions to Jesus? Transformed lives? The opportunity to play dress-up each week?
How do we quantify our efforts?
Sunday, August 26, 2007
So when preacher Jesus should have stuck to his script and distributed the pretty God-words they came to hear, Jesus had the temerity to heal someone.
“Hey there Jesus, that looks a lot like work to me,” the synagogue leader, probably the council president (sorry Herman) said, “You’ve got six days to do that healing the sick and raising the dead stuff. Today is for worship.”
The synagogue leader lays it on thick. How ‘bout it, Jesus? Do you pray enough? How much bible do you read everyday? How is your quiet time with God? You should know better. Is God that unimportant in your life?”
How would you have answered this synagogue leader? What do you do to hedge away some time or place to devote yourself to God? How do you honour the Sabbath?
And while we spit and sputter some kind of answer, Jesus is already on top of it, answering for us: “You hypocrite! Don’t you care for the people and creatures in your life that you love and depend on? Don’t you care for them even on the Sabbath?
The odd thing here is...(whole thing here)
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
4. Michael Slaughter, UnLearning Church
3. Diana Butler Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith
2. Anderson Cooper, Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival
1. Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge
Monday, August 20, 2007
Sunday, August 19, 2007
...what consequences do you bear as a Christian? What does your life proclaim?
Is the church a place where we sit up straight, hands on our laps, listen politely, and do what we’re told?
Or is the church a place where we are set on fire?
When I toured the new Christian radio station here in Lethbridge the station manager proudly promised that this station would be safe to listen to, in-offensive to anyone who might stumble upon their number on the dial.
“Is that what Christianity’s come down to?” I thought to myself. “Safe and inoffensive? Does that mean that we won’t hear readings like the one from today’s gospel? Or will they be glossed over with a Disneyfied version of our faith?” (the whole thing here)
Thursday, August 16, 2007
You do nothing by half-measures. If you’re going to read the Bible, you want to read it in the original languages. If you’re going to teach, you’re going to reach as many souls as possible, through a proliferation of lectures and books. If you’re a guy and you’re going to fight for purity … well, you’d better hide the kitchen shears.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
O Lord, give us a mind that is humble, quiet, peaceable, patient and charitable, and a taste of your Holy Spirit in all our thoughts, words, and deeds.
O Lord, give us a lively faith, a firm hope, a fervent charity, a love of you.
Take from us all lukewarmness in meditation and all dullness in prayer.
Give us fervor and delight in thinking of you, your grace, and your tender compassion toward us.
Give us, good Lord, the grace to work for the things we pray for.
St Thomas More, 1478-1535, Patron Saint of Lawyers
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Saturday, August 11, 2007
The Pursuit of Luck
Innovation is a low-odds business—and luck sure helps. (It’s jolly well helped me!) If you believe that success does owe a lot to luck, and that luck in turn owes a lot to getting in the way of unexpected opportunities, you need not throw up your hands in despair. There are strategies you can pursue to get a little nuttiness into your life, and perhaps, then, egg on good luck. (By contrast, if you believe that orderly plans and getting up an hour earlier are the answer, then by all means arise before the rooster and start planning.)
Want to get lucky? Try following these 50 (!) strategies:
1. At-bats. More times at the plate, more hits.
2. Try it. Cut the baloney and get on with something.
3. Ready. Fire. Aim. (Instead of Ready. Aim. Aim. Aim. ...)
4. “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”—G.K. Chesterton. You’ve gotta start somewhere.
5. Read odd stuff. Look anywhere for ideas.
6. Visit odd places. Want to “see” speed? Visit CNN.
7. Make odd friends.
8. Hire odd people. Boring folks, boring ideas.
9. Cultivate odd hobbies. Raise orchids. Race yaks.
10. Work with odd partners.
11. Ask dumb questions. “How come computer commands all come from keyboards?”
Somebody asked that one first; hence, the mouse.
12. Empower. The more folks feel they’re running their own show, the more at-bats, etc.
13. Train without limits. Pick up the tab for training unrelated to work—keep everyone engaged, period.
14. Don’t back away from passion. “Dispassionate innovator” is an oxymoron.
15. Pursue failure. Failure is success’s only launching pad. (The bigger the goof, the better!)
16. Take anti-NIH pills. Don’t let “not invented here” keep you from ripping off nifty ideas.
17. Constantly reorganize. Mix, match, try different combinations to shake things up.
18. Listen to everyone. Ideas come from anywhere.
19. Don’t listen to anyone. Trust your inner ear.
20. Get fired. If you’re not pushing hard enough to get fired, you’re not pushing hard enough.(More than once is okay.)
21. Nurture intuition. If you can find an interesting market idea that came from a rational plan, I’ll eat all my hats. (I have quite a collection.)
22. Don’t hang out with “all the rest.” Forget the same tired trade association meetings, talking with the same tired people about the same tired things.
23. Decentralize. At-bats are proportional to the amount of decentralization.
24. Decentralize again.
25. Smash all functional barriers. Unfettered contact among people from different disciplines is magic.
26. Destroy hierarchies.
27. Open the books. Make everyone a “businessperson,” with access to all the financials.
28. Start an information deluge. The more real-time, unedited information people close to the action have, the more that “neat stuff” happens.
29. Take sabbaticals.
30. “Repot” yourself every 10 years. (This was the advice of former Stanford Business School dean Arjay Miller—meaning change careers each decade.)
31. Spend 50 percent of your time with “outsiders.” Distributors and vendors will give you more ideas in five minutes than another five-hour committee meeting.
32. Spend 50 percent of your “outsider” time with wacko outsiders.
33. Pursue alternative rhythms. Spend a year on a farm, six months working in a factory or burger shop.
34. Spread confusion in your wake. Keep people off balance, don’t let the ruts get deeper than they already are.
35. Disorganize. Bureaucracy takes care of itself. The boss should be “chief dis-organizer,” Quad/Graphics CEO Harry Quadracci told us.
36. “Dis-equilibrate ... Create instability, even chaos.” Good advice to “real leaders” from Professor Warren Bennis.
37. Stir curiosity. Igniting youthful, dormant curiosity in followers is the lead dog’s top task, according to Sony chairman Akio Morita.
38. Start a Corporate Traitors’ Hall of Fame. “Renegades” are not enough. You need people who despise what you stand for.
39. Give out “Culture Scud Awards.” Your best friend is the person who attacks your corporate culture head-on. Wish her well.
40. Vary your pattern. Eat a different breakfast cereal. Take a different route to work.
41. Take off your coat.
42. Take off your tie.
43. Roll up your sleeves.
44. Take off your shoes.
45. Get out of your office. Tell me, honestly, the last time something inspiring or clever happened at that big table in your office?!
46. Get rid of your office.
47. Spend a workday each week at home.
48. Nurture peripheral vision. The interesting “stuff” usually is going on beyond the margins of the professional’s ever-narrowing line of sight.
49. Don’t “help.” Let the people who work for you slip, trip, fall—and grow and learn on their own.
50. Avoid moderation in all things. “Anything worth doing is worth doing to excess,”
according to Edwin Land, Polaroid’s founder. Now write down the opposite of each of the 50. Which set comes closer to your profile?*
In short, loosen up!
* This list was stimulated by a friend who attended a several-day seminar I conducted in early 1991. The group, I thought, was vigorous. Her comment on the last day: “Are all those people
It shook me and got me wondering about the narrowness of my own vision.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
“Vanity, vanity, all is vanity!” shouts the teacher. A little cynical, don’t you think? He might as well say, “life’ tough…then you die.” Not exactly a hopeful message, is it?
This teacher is quite the whiner, isn’t he? He says that he worked hard his whole life to help his people grow deeper in wisdom, only to see them through it all away. Why even bother? He seems to be saying.
Maybe you teachers, on your bad days, in the congregation can relate. You work your fingers raw trying to get into the hearts and minds of our young people only to see them waste their time and talents on PlayStation and third rate underground punk bands. Or their parents’ ambitions for their children were decidedly smaller than the talent you saw blossoming inside them. Despite your best efforts, some folks just didn’t get it.
I wonder if Paul worried about the same thing in the second reading. He had his knickers in a knot about something in this passage. But then again, when WASN’T Paul angry about one thing or another? Is that what Paul does best?
When I was in seminary, it was hip to hate Paul. They said he hated women, he was too full of himself, he was homophobic. Some folks thought they had better theology than the first apostle to the gentiles.
I never really understood the animosity toward the guy who articulated the whole “grace through faith” thing, but if you can’t be sanctimonious in seminary, when can you be sanctimonious?
It was passages like this one in today’s second that got peoples’ shorts in a bunch. Here is Paul at his rhetorical best, or some might say worst. He trots out the biggies, the sins that that some thought were the worst of the worst. He seemed to hate everything that gave life flavour, anything that made for a good movie. If it was fun, Paul was against it. It’s like he wanted us to be pure disembodied souls instead of real, live, flesh and blood human beings.
Fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed? Put to death whatever is earthly? Wrath for the disobedient? For those trying to condemn Paul, there’s a lot to work with here.
And they wouldn’t be alone. You don’t need to know the bible to be uncomfortable with this passage...(the whole thing here)
Saturday, August 04, 2007
Over the next few weeks I'll be updating my progress Kirsty Alley style (but you won't see me in a bikini on Oprah - probably) just so I can keep some semblance of accountability with my readers - all 3 of you.
There. I’ve made it known to the whole world. Hold me to it.
Friday, August 03, 2007
Talk about blaming the victim. Worthington's heartlessness is made even more appalling by dismissing the work that this Korean Christians were doing and the message they were proclaiming.
He assesses, from his privileged perch 8000 miles away, these Christians’ “martyr complex” and compares them to suicide bombers. He blithely suggests that these Christians are not Jesuits and the Taliban are not Iroquois, and does so without backing up his argument as to why this situation is different.
He goes on to say:
“Christian groups should be discouraged from dabbling in regions where their religious faith is not appreciated, and where others are required to risk their lives to save them when inevitably they are kidnapped, to be used as political bargaining chips.”
Now he’s starting to sound like a good, ol’ fashioned liberal, the kind he often rails against. Keep faith private. Let the real power of the world deal with evil.
But at its heart, his argument is that Christians don’t belong in the hellish places of the world. But isn’t that exactly were Jesus asked his followers to go? Isn’t that were Jesus himself went?
Or does Worthington see Christianity as merely a self-help tool, comfort when times get tough, a little moral guidance for the kiddies, but need to get out of the way when the “real” work of building a new world needs to be done?
Or does he feel convicted by the witness of these Christians, showing him the shallowness of most western Christianity, so he dismisses them as dangerous, uniformed, idealists?
I know I’m convicted by the actions of these Korean Christians: building schools and hospitals, bearing witness to an alternative reality that Jesus called the Kingdom of God.
We can learn from what they have to teach us.
Thursday, August 02, 2007
Shall I abandon, O King of mysteries, the soft comforts of home? Shall I turn my back on my native land, and turn my face towards the sea?
Shall I put myself wholly at your mercy, without silver, without a horse, without fame, without honour? Shall I throw myself wholly upon You, without sword and shield, without food and drink, without a bed to lie on? Shall I say farewell to my beautiful land, placing myself under Your yoke?
Shall I pour out my heart to You, confessing my manifold sins and begging forgiveness, tears streaming down my cheeks? Shall I leave the prints of my knees on the sandy beach, a record of my final prayer in my native land?
Shall I then suffer every kind of wound that the sea can inflict? Shall I take my tiny boat across the wide sparkling ocean? O King of the Glorious Heaven, shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?
O Christ, will You help me on the wild waves?
Sunday, July 29, 2007
I haven’t yet seen the Simpsons Movie, but I plan to. I’m a BIG Simpsons fan. Not only is it a great show, it is a WEALTH of sermons illustrations. After one too many Bart and Homer references, someone pulled me aside in Halifax and gently asked me to lay off the Simpsons in the pulpit.
I love the Simpsons, not just because it’s funny and well-written, but because it’s a thoughtful commentary on today’s culture. The Simpsons cartoon is not just a satire of its time, but also a ground-breaker for pop culture, says Chris Turner, the Calgary writer of Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Documented an Era and Defined a Generation.
The Simpsons is my generation’s narrative. It’s our story. Most folks older than me hate it, and most people younger don’t quite get it. It’s not their story. So, my story and other stories rub sandpaper-like against each other.
It’s easy to get sucked into competing stories. And one of the defining characteristics of today’s world is that there is no BIG STORY linking us together like there once was.
The US told the story of revolution leading to freedom. Canada’s story has been a battle between English and French, Anglo and Quebecois, east and west.
Now we are told that we choose our stories. That the old stories don’t work.
This isn’t really anything new. Just look at today’s second reading. It looked like the...(the whole thing here)
Friday, July 27, 2007
Recent books and studies seem to indicate disturbing sexual trends among evangelical Christians. And this time we're not talking about their pastors or political leaders. The new attention is on evangelical teenagers, who reportedly start sex earlier than their mainline Protestant peers.
One gleeful headline on an Internet site recently read: "Evangelical Girls Are Easy….(whole article here from WaPo, reg req)
While this is an American stat, I wonder if the same thing is happening here up north. I’ve heard from folks that the most promiscuous kids here in Lethbridge are Mormon. I’ve been told that they take a Clintonesque approach to defining “sex” and even have a tag line (“oral is moral”).
While Mormons and evangelicals are two very different theological animals, their stance on teenage sex is indistinguishable (as it is from most mainline churches)
Of course, many of my Lib friends will use the stat to show that conservative Christianity isn’t “working.” Some of my conservative confrères will want to dispute the stat.
But if evangelical Christian teens ARE having sex earlier then we have to ask “why.” Without judgment. Because parents need to know what they can do to help their children make healthy life choices.
Gerson suggests that evangelicals merely offer lectures and sermons on the evils of premarital sex, which, apparently, doesn’t do the trick.
But I think that’s too easy an explanation. For those of us who’ve been around evangelicals for awhile (Cleetus accuses me of being too cozy with the Religious Right) know that evangelicals don’t just preach, they accountability build systems.
While I’m a critic of so-called “sin management” theology, you can’t deny the lengths to which evangelicals go to make sure sinful behaviour doesn’t go unmonitored.
So, what’s going on here? Are these teens simply being rebellious? Are they starving for intimacy?
We need to find out. Inquiring parents want to know.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Back in February I read a review of Diana Butler-Bass’ new book Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith. So I picked up a copy.
I read it in ONE sitting.
And it totally rocked my ecclesiastical world. Butler-Bass details mainline churches who have bucked the trend toward decline and – gasp! – grew. But didn’t just grow in numbers, but experienced renewal.
I’ve always questioned the chicken-littles of the church world who proclaim the doom of mainline churches. It’s almost become an article of faith to believe that most churches are declining in membership, worship attendance, and mission.
Good Shepherd, the congregation I serve, is experiencing a bizarre trend: membership is UP. Worship attendance is DOWN. Not by much. But it’s noticeable and people are starting to comment on it.
BUT (and it’s a BIG BUT), ministry is happening here nonetheless. A lot of ministry. Some may say too much ministry for our small to moderate size congregation. And more ministries are in the works. We have more ideas than people. More inspiration than resources.
However, Good Shepherd can sit comfortably among the growing, dynamic churches that Butler-Bass profiles.
One thing I LOVED about the book was that these were no-name Christians. Not one Christian celeb in the bunch. Just your garden variety, everyday, Christians trying to follow Jesus the best way they know how. They may not have the big shiny new building. But they have healthy doses of prayer and a strong blast of the Holy Spirit.
In other words, God isn’t done with mainline churches just yet.
UPDATE: Revised for silly typos and bad grammar.
UPDATE 2: Sara shares her thoughts on the book.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Sunday, July 22, 2007
If you know me, you know that I don’t like taking vacations. At least not extended ones. I just need a day or two with a couple good books or a few Family Guy DVDs and I’m ready to be back in the office.
While a vacation is supposed to be relaxing, rejuvenating, and restorative, to me it descends into boredom…and the blahs.
Last year I found the week long ChristCare Training more energizing than a week at my in-laws (due respect to my wife’s parents).
And last summer I found the time in Mexico with our young people more relaxing than spending a week in Ontario enjoying my mom’s cooking (sorry mom).
I just get bored if I’m not doing something.
So, for me, it’s not about being virtuous, or claiming to have a superhuman work ethic. I don’t stand in moral judgment over those who actually LIKE to get away and go camping or whatever. I just find that twiddling my thumbs for four weeks a year causes more me stress than it relieves.
And I know I’m going to get hassled for saying this. I always do. People are rightly concerned that if I don’t take care of myself and my family I won’t have anything to give in my job as your pastor.
I know that clergy and church worker burnout has been a concern for Bishop Mayan. Other than him looking out for the well-being of those under his care, he’s also looking out for the future of our church. His fear is that people won’t be interested in ordained ministry if they keep seeing pastors quitting because of their work load.
It’s not just church workers that are being strained. I’ll bet each one of you can tell some pretty harrowing stories of 60 hour weeks and deserted families. Just as most people are working longer hours, there is a small cottage industry of resources helping us overworked souls from collapsing under the weight of our industriousness.
Lately, I’ve noticed a lot books being published on the neglected art of Sabbath keeping. This has nothing to do about whether we should stop in at Wal-Mart after church, or if we should go back to the Lord’s Day laws making it illegal to shop on Sunday. At least not directly. But Sabbath keeping is about taking time for prayer and rest one day a week. It’s about connecting with the one who is connected to us through baptism.
It’s about being Mary instead of Martha.
It’s easy to get angry at Mary. Especially if you’re a Martha. Martha was action-oriented, she was a doer, she was the one you called upon when you wanted a job done right.
Mary was the dreamer, the philosopher. She just liked to sit around and think great thoughts. Some may even call her a slacker.
So, who do you side with?
If you like to get up early and get things done, then you’re probably with Martha.
If you are looking to change the world one conversation at a time then you sit down with Mary.
But folks probably didn’t know what to make of it when Jesus took lazy Mary’s side. “Martha, Martha,” Jesus said after Martha told him to ask Mary to get up off her butt and do something useful.
“Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away.”
So, is Jesus telling Martha to chill and take a vacation or she’ll burn herself out? On the surface that’s what it looks like. And certainly many preachers have interpreted this passage that way.
But I’m not convinced.
Because the key to unlocking this passage is hidden in plain sight. The... (read the whole thing here)
Monday, July 16, 2007
Barbarians are messy.
They have little patience for institutions and ureaucracies, proper religious people think they are too uncivilized.
Barbarians aren’t about religion, they’re about the revolution.
When Christianity becomes just another religion - we build nice little institutions and expect everyone to become a good citizen.
I cannot believe that Jesus endured the agony of the Cross just to keep us in line. Jesus didn’t die on the cross to make us good citizens.
Maybe the greatest tragedy of our time is that such an overwhelming number of us who call Jesus our Lord have become domesticated… civilized.
We’ve lost the passion. We’ve lost the power of an untamed faith.
Maybe that’s what John was saying when he told the Church in
Ephesus that they had lost their first love.
The barbarian way is about love, intimacy, passion and sacrifice.
Barbarians love to live and live to love.
On a painful note, I got stung by a wasp today while unloading the car. I got so mad that I picked the black bug off my leg and threw it on the ground. Then it went over and stung out three-year-old on the finger.
Wasps. Game on.
Sunday, July 08, 2007
There are some who think that to advocate a simple lifestyle is to propose something akin to Martin Luther's hair shirt [note: Martin Luther was opposed to hair shirts as being contrary to the gospel - kgp]. The truth is I am not giving up anything I truly desire.
And that's the point of this series: doing an inventory of your purchases and lifestyle will reveal what you really love and what you do only to make others happy. I truly believe that most of what we buy and do is not of us, not of who we wish to be, not our true selves.
I assume you've heard the expression "less is more." I'll give you a practical example. I recently went through more than 50 photo albums and boxes of old photographs compiled by my mother.
My mission was to eliminate the bad photos, the uninteresting ones, and sort out one album's worth of material for my two brothers, my Dad and me.
If I had kept every picture and arranged them accordingly, each of us would have had 13 albums. I know I would never have looked at those albums if I had taken this collection home. However, the 103 pictures in my one album are precious to me. I look at them all the time.
I don't believe we have the stamina, time or attention span to enjoy all of the perks we indulge. So we tend to amuse ourselves with whatever is...(continue reading here)
Saturday, July 07, 2007
The program ended at 12:30 and everything had to be torn down and the building put back together for a 2:30 funeral.
It took an army of church folks about 45 minutes and the place looked better than it did before VBS. Maybe a little TOO good ;)
Thanks to EVERYONE who helped out to make the VBS such an incredible success! And to all those who pitched in to make the Friday funeral run so smoothly. I know the family greatly appreciated your efforts!
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
While I disapprove of waste, no matter who is doing it, we all have our cravings and I am reluctant to judge anyone's taste.
That means I will shout at cars driving down the road throwing their garbage out the window, but I would never say a word to someone who liked monster truck races or health spas.
However, for some reason, my sense of frugality is alarming to some, and downright dangerous to others.
I remember walking the approximately seven kilometres from my home to the church I serve, and being picked up by a perky woman on her way to Nubodys.
As she invited me into her SUV, she asked "Don't I see you walking this road every day?" After I explained the route I take, she became rather affronted. "Do you realize the time you are wasting?" she asked. I explained that I used the 70 minutes to practise my sermons. She wasn't buying it. As she dropped me off at her gym I asked her how much it cost to belong to her club. I also asked how long she worked out each day and how long it took to get there and back.
When we were adopting our daughter, we had to declare our income and savings. Because it was an international adoption, there was an expectation, especially considering our income, that we would be borrowing money from the bank. The fact we had the cash up front disturbed some people. We must be misers.
My wife lives a simple lifestyle too, but more of necessity. We are a one-income family there days. She is a stronger environmentalist than I, constantly getting after me to put my waste in the recycling box, not the garbage. She composts, washes every glass bottle, changes all our old lightbulbs.
Where the rubber hit the road for her was the vehicle. With Lucy on board, it was very important to have an ultra-safe car, thus the Subaru Imprezza. All-wheel drive is not easy on gas!
We agree on many things. Both of us try to...(whole thing here)
Sunday, July 01, 2007
“Let the dead bury their own dead,” Jesus says.
Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson, in their book Age of Propaganda offer this advice for those aspiring to become cult leaders.
Number One: Create your own social reality, usually meaning to cut all ties with family and friends, making the cult your immediate family.
Number Two: Create a granfalloon, by which they mean to create an “in-group” and an “out-group,” constantly reminding the “in-group” that if they want to be part of the chosen group then they must think and act like a chosen group.
Number Three: Establish the leader’s credibility and attractiveness by creating myths or legends concerning the life and times of the leader. The more fantastic the better.
Number Four: Send members out to proselytize and fundraise.
“Follow me. Let the dead bury their own dead,” Jesus tells an earnest God seeker. “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
To the naked eye, Jesus sounds like the cult leader that the book describes. And maybe he...(read the whole thing here)