Sunday, July 29, 2007

Sermon: Pentecost 9 - Year C

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

The Kind of Village it Takes

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

Christianity for the Rest of Us

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.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sermon: Pentecost 8 - Year C

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

Erwin Mcmanus on "The Barbarian Way"

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.

via scott

Vacation and wasps

I’m apparently still on vacation, but there’s some stuff to do that is time sensitive, so I’ll be in and out for another week. THEN, back to the happy grind.

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

Kevin Little: Simple living separates needs from wants. Part 4 of 4

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

Great Bible Reef

VBS rocked. There’s no other way to put it. The band was phenomenal. The leaders were first rate. And the helpers went above and beyond the call. And most importantly, the kids had a great time. I hope that they encountered something of God’s love through us.

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

Kevin Little on the Immaterial world: Living the simple life, Part 3 of 4

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

Sermon: Pentecost 5 - Year C

“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.

Sound familiar?

“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)