Saturday, December 29, 2007

Links Updated

You probably didn't notice but I've added some new links. In no particular order:

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.

Willimon: Christmas in the Empire

Will Willimon has a good reflection on the Christmas story:

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.

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.
(The whole thing here)

Christmas Week

It’s been a quiet Christmas. Possibly the one of the best Christmases our family has had in a long time.

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

Christmas Eve Sermon

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

Sermon: Advent 4 - Year A

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 fiancĂ©. 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

Overheard at our house yesterday

Our Three-year-old (OTYO): God is tall, right daddy?

Me: Yeah, I suppose so.

OTYO: Taller than mommy and daddy, right?

Me: Yup.

OTYO: God is taller than anyone in the world, right?

Me: U'huh.

OTYO: God is even bigger than the BOOGEY MAN!

Me: Indeed.

OTYO: Wow. Even bigger than the boogey man. That's BIG!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Martin Marty on Global Warming

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

Franco Zeffirelli says he has agreed to become an image consultant to Pope Benedict XVI

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".

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".
(whole thing here)

Is image consulting manipulation? Or is it getting your message across more effectively?

I dunno. I'm just asking.

via C&L

Sermon: Advent 3 - Year A

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.


Make Good Choices

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.

One down!

First draft of the Christmas Eve sermon is DONE!

Thomas Merton died 39 years ago today.

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

5 Things We Can Learn From Fast Growing Congregations

* 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.


First they sign the Kyoto Protocol...

...and now this. I think I'll pick up a six pack of Fosters in their honour.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Happy Hanukah to our Jewish Friends!

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.