Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Synod Resolutions: The Fluffy

Scene: The Simpson family walks toward a huge shopping center named Sprawl Mart. The sign underneath reads, 'Not a Parody of Wal-Mart.'

Three resolutions going to the UCC's General Synod fall under this category.

The first is a resolution calling on the UCC to advocate 'peace with justice.' Submitted by the Justice & Witness Ministries of the UCC, this resolution addresses a wide variety of work that we are called to do: ending racism, environmental destruction, sexism, discrimination against the physically handicapped, poverty, and homopobia. And in all this work, the refrain is that we are also called 'to create a culture of non-violence and peace.' Addressing the litany of sins against humanity just mentioned is to take steps toward such a culture.

Reasoning is shared both from the witness of Martin Luther King Jr. and from scripture (Ephesians 2:14 & Isaiah 2:4). 'We strive for peace with justice because of the prophetic and pastoral witness of our faith over the ages which constantly call God's people back into right relationship with each other and with God.' Sounds great. So how are we going to do this? The resolution lists a couple ways: supporting a denomination-wide 'peace with justice' movement in the United Church of Christ. Not much elaboration at this stage in the game. The most concrete piece is this paragraph right here:

'Be it further resolved that local churches and Conferences who already are identified as Just Peace, Open and Affirming, Accessible to All, Whole Earth, and/or Multiracial and Multicultural, or seek to be, are affirmed in these identifications, and that we urge local churches and Conferences who have not adopted such identities are full and active partners in a peace witih justice movement in the UCC...'


In case you didn't know, local churches in the UCC have a variety of declarations available to make about themselves, related to certain issues. This paragraph basically says that those who have made some or all of these delcarations are good, those who want to make some or all are also good, and those who haven't made any are...okay, and somehow should still contribute to this ambiguous new initiative even if they don't agree with all of its parts. It doesn't get much more specific. So it's a nice statement, and that's about it.

The second resolution in this category is to a call to work 'for the common good.' This is another one proposed by Justice and Witness. First invoking one of my favorites, Matthew 25:34-45, this resolution 'calls upon all settings of the United church of Christ to uphold the common good as a foundational ideal in the United States...' How to do that? 'A just and good society balances individualism with the needs of the community.' Yes. Sounds great. It goes on to say that we need to protect the vulnerable and to see to it that all have equal rights. Yes. I like it. We need to help the least of these. Yes. Very much so.

So how do we do this? The resolution calls upon the UCC to work to make our culture reflect certain values, such as caring for the most vulnerable of our citizens, upholding the payment of taxes as a civic responsibility, and supporting a tax code that puts the heaviest burden on the most wealthy. We teeter on making a political statement here, but one that is Biblical: 'From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.' (Luke 12:48)

All in all, this is a resolution promoting a specific set of values that contribute to 'the common good' in terms of taxation, health care, employment, education, and so on. It's a great statement, but lacking in concreteness. On the other hand, only so much can be said on 3-4 pages, so for now it's just a matter of putting these values forth for others to affirm or reject.

A third resolution calls for environmental education and action. Check the 'Background' section for the usual litany of humanity's sins against the environment: pollution, depletion of the ozone, erosion (that's not all us), urban sprawl, and so on. The point of the resolution comes in the next paragraph: '...we can and must encourage, support and coordinate efforts to assist Churches, Conferences and other entities of the UCC to develop environmental initiatives as defined below.' All right, a statement on the environment that proposes specific actions to address it.

After the usual stuff about how it is humanity's God-given responsibility to care for creation (Genesis 1, Psalm 8, 19, & 65), we get to the initiatives. These include urging UCC churches and conferences to 'increase awareness and change public consciousness about our interaction with the natural world...promote the study of our Biblical and historical heritage of caring about the environment'...creating public fora to talk about how it's our responsibility to care for creation...sigh...let's skip ahead a little bit.

'Be it further resolved that the twenty-fifth General Synod directs the Executive Council to request that Justice and Witness Ministries establish and empower a UCC Environmental Steering Committee.' Great. What would this Steering Committee do? They would implement the resolution. How? To help churches and conferences do all that stuff that we think they should do.

This resolution is, on the whole, a call to form a committee and not much more. That committee would then help the rest of us talk about the environment. I hope you can see why I filed this under 'Fluffy.' It has good intentions and there's always a need to address environmental concerns, but this resolution's effectiveness other than to remind us of that responsibility now and forming a committee to remind us later, looks faint.

On the whole, they're good statements. I don't find much with which I disagree. The implementation is fuzzy at best, and these are more general statements on how we're supposed to be, hence the category of 'Fluffy.'

Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day

I was asked this morning to help lead a Memorial Day service at the church cemetery, during which I offered the following prayer based on the hymn, 'A Song of Peace:'


O God of all nations, we offer a prayer for peace both for this land and all other lands. America is our home, where we base our hopes and dreams, but we are also aware of hearts in other lands beating just as strongly for their own.

We give you thanks for blue skies, for sunlight, for the shade and green of the trees over us. We give thanks that those skies, your sunlight and shade are over people in other places as well.

This is our prayer, O God of all nations and kingdoms, that your kingdom will be realized above all others, that on earth it will be done as it is in heaven. We pray, O God, for unity among all people, that peace might reign and begin with each of us.

We pray for those the world over who need protection from violence. We pray that we might overcome differences and work toward a new world ruled by love, and governed by hope rather than fear.

We pray this prayer of peace, O God, remembering those who died because there is not yet this peace, this love, this hope. We pray that you would continue to transform this world into one in which another’s humanity is valued and another’s well-being is treasured. We strive for this world and
for the hope that it gives us. It is in your name we pray. Amen.


In addition, I gave a brief address about how we celebrate people's service to protect us even as we grieve a world that requires that protection. I'm grateful to those who serve even as I am conflicted about our military presence in some parts of the world. If it weren't for their defense, this country would look very different and that wouldn't be all good by any means.

Synod Resolutions: The Controversial

'Now we can focus on the real enemies of Christianity: monogamous gays and stem cells.' - Ned Flanders

One of the latest battles to be fought in Christian circles concerning the 'H' word will take place at General Synod. Three resolutions will be presented to the floor: two supporting gay marriage, and one against it. It will actually be the first flesh-and-blood debate over this issue that I'll see (all previous have taken place on this wonderfully useful device on which I spend way too much time), and if media attention to the issue in general (and Christian attention in particular) is any indication, this could be the issue most hotly contested at Synod. The backlash, if either or both of the positive resolutions are approved, could also be something to behold. But many in the UCC take pride in the denomination 'leading the way' on social justice issues, so we forge ahead to all the screaming and yelling that is to come.

Many advocate a return to 'the Biblical model of marriage.' When they say this, they only mean one particular model exhibited in the Bible: Adam and Eve. The argument is that the explanation given during the second creation story in Genesis ('A man will leave his father and mother and join the woman and the two will become one flesh') is THE definition of marriage in the Bible, THE Biblical model. But we forget others: Jacob had two wives. Solomon had....whew....Abram had one wife, but also slept with a concubine (but the concubine was chased off, so maybe he's okay). Jesus was single and said if you don't hate your wife because of me, you're not my disciple. Paul advocated abstaining from marriage if you could help it, since Jesus is coming back soon and we have more important work to do.

None of these other 'Biblical models' of marriage are given to support gay marriage as much as they are given so that one might rethink what 'Biblical marriage' looks like. Even so, two gay men or women who have decided to enter into a committed, monogomous, loving relationship is hardly a threat to 'our way of life.'

Synod will also consider three resolutions related to Israel and Palestine: two to advocate or at least 'consider' divestment from companies that aid in the conflict, and a third calling to tear down Israel's 'security fence.' I'm never going to be an expert on this messy situation, and I'm afraid I don't have the time or energy to become one. Even so, Thomas Friedman has written an excellent book on the situation based on his own extensive hands-on experiences. No one comes out clean in this situation. Israel has moved in on territory that is not theirs no matter how one slices it. The same people who decry these proposed resolutions as too biased toward Palestinians do not seem to have much to say about the settlements on the West Bank, other than that they are necessary for Israeli safety.

Hateful extremists among the Palestinian have helped encourage a stigma of all Palestinians as 'terrorists.' Under Arafat the PLO was hopelessly in the hands of these extremists. Any move forward and threats to the PLO's power and relevance were imminent. The cuts run deep on both sides. Jews in Israel are, as they always have been, theatened by anti-Semites and Islamists, and so the existence of a state is necessary. However, Israel has such power militarily that their playing victim is not always believable (their storming of Beriut in the 70s is one example).

I don't think that divestment is a healthy option at this time. Sharon and Abbas are hopefully still working toward the latest attempt at peace, and Sharon has begun ordering the removal of settlements (although there may be others planned). It's an incredibly complicated situation and frustrating to try to understand completely (pretty much because that's impossible for us to do). Such a move would be ill-timed, and I question the effectiveness of actions such as divestment, anyway. There are other, more effective ways to advocate a fair and just handling of the Palestinian territory while recognizing the need for a Jewish state.

I've not yet read enough on the situation on the Sudan to comment on that resolution, but check this post for updates as the week goes on.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Ministerial Issues at Synod

I left out one very important piece about what is being considered at General Synod this summer. In addition to the resolutions that I've recapped below, we will be discussing a pronouncement on ordination. This pronouncement will expand the traditional formula of 4 years college, 3 years seminary to include other paths to becoming ordained in the United Church of Christ appropriate to one's experience and economic status, among other criteria. It affirms the need for well-educated clergy and stresses that different paths will require education as well. An article describing this pronouncement is here.

I'm torn on this one. As one who followed the traditional path, I believe a seminary education is important for clergy. This is not intellectual elitism, it is calling for extensive training under an accredited faculty. Now, what truly may be elitist about my own position (which I will own) is watching another ordained who didn't have to go through what I did.

On the other hand, the debt with which one may leave after seven years of higher education can be mind-boggling. I was fortunate in this regard, but I'm close to plenty others who were not so fortunate. In addition, I can tell you a few of my own experiences where we were so financially strapped during my seminary career that it took every last penny to make payments. We were barely above the red many times. I did make it out debt-free, but not without a lot of strain on multiple areas of my life.

I need to read over the pronouncement a few more times to get a good grasp on what is being proposed, but if there must be multiple paths, I suggest the following as educational opportunities and requirements:
  • Clinical Pastoral Education. One 10-week intensive summer unit. The Association picks up half the cost. The local church does its best to help with the other half.
  • 2 years half-time in a local church or field setting appropriate to one's sense of call prior to ordination, a stipend equaling half the Conference guidelines for a full-time pastor provided. If the setting cannot account for such a stipend, the Association or Conference provides appropriate assistance. Regular reports to the local church who is sponsoring the ministerial candidate so they can see firsthand what their OCWM money is accomplishing.
  • Month-long intensive courses from visiting seminary faculty for an undetermined period of time.

These are a few things I'd like to see. In some respects it sounds like the Methodist way of doing things and in some respects it sounds like the UCC's own Licensed Ministry program, but these are elements I believe to be crucial for one's pursuit of call.

All right, back on Monday for other Synod musings. Seriously. I mean it this time.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Pop Culture Roundup

Once again, I'm away from the computer on Saturday. So here it is a few days early.

William R. Clark and Michael Grunstein ask the question, Are We Hardwired? in their book of same name. It's a book about the role of genes in behavior. I picked it up to stay informed of things outside of theology. So far the answer is 'Yes and no,' but I'm only 20 pages in. They need another 250 pages or so to elaborate. If you want an exciting read, skip this one. But if you want to be informed, it's not bad.

We did go to see Episode III on Sunday. If you haven't seen it yet and want to be surprised (the same way you were probably surprised by 'Titanic' or 'Passion of the Christ'), don't read any further. I found it to be the most enjoyable of the three. Jar Jar is in one shot and doesn't speak at all, and that's an automatic plus. Christensen does much better in this movie, although the love scenes are still stiff and awkward (but we can thank Lucas' writing as much as anything). The scene where Anakin decides to turn seems so sudden. One minute he's anguished over his helping kill a Jedi, the next he is completely submissive to Palpatine. All in all it's the darkest of any Star Wars movie and deserves its PG-13. Ewan McGregor is a bright spot as he has been in all three new movies, and it'd be interesting to hear how Chewbacca goes from leading his fellow Wookies to helping Han Solo smuggle goods around the universe. All in all, though, it wrapped things up nicely.

In the CD player has been the Sneaker Pimps' Becoming X. They've changed their lineup since this album, though. 'Becoming X' is a pop/electronic work, which I normally wouldn't really be into except the beats are strong and I'm a sucker for bands with female singers.

Around the web, WesleyBlog has some things to say about styles of worship.

Enjoy your long weekend. Back on Monday to muse on Synod.

Mid-year Resolutions

As I wrote a while back, I am a delegate to the UCC's General Synod this year, and resolutions have been published on the UCC website for a little over a month now. Next week, I'll share some thoughts on these resolutions under my own semi-clever groupings:

The Controversial - resolutions on marriage, divestment from companies in Israel and Palestine, opposition to Israel's 'security fence,' addressing the conflict in the Sudan

The Fluffy - pronouncements on the UCC advocating 'peace with justice,' a call to work 'for the common good,' calling for environmental education and action

The Mildly Politically Divisive - calling the UCC to advocate 'fair trade,' support for the International Criminal Court, promoting religious freedom for Native Hawaiian prisoners, advocating stewardship of God's creation since fossil fuels are declining, saving Social Security from privatization

The Practical - support for campus ministries, making churches more handicapped accessible, a proposal to change the layout of General Synod, advocating adequate compensation for UCC lay employees

The Non-Issues - pronouncements that the UCC is a Christian denomination and that the Cross Triumphant is the official UCC symbol

I'll take one of these categories starting Monday and work through to Friday. Gosh, it'll be exciting.

Oh, and look forward to another early edition of the Pop Culture Roundup later today.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The 'E' Word

Yesterday evening was the reorganization of our Evangelism Committee after what I believe is close to a 2-year layoff. I admit that evangelism is a growing edge for me due to its stigma and its uncomfortable nature. I've been jaded by evangelistic tactics I've seen used; how alienating and even injurious it can be. And being a Midwestern guy to begin with, my politeness runneth over.

In addition, the term 'Evangelical' has taken on a stigma with which many do not want to be associated. Nowadays it is identified with a particular theopolitical ideology. Say any variation of the word 'evangelism' in certain circles and either watch people clam up or get set to hear a rant on how 'they' are hijacking our country. I'm the last to defend 'them,' but my point is that the 'e' word has been given such a narrow definition in recent years that salvaging it at this point has already been deemed a pointless endeavor.

So I sat among a few congregants last night and attempted to present as best I could a definition of evangelism. 'Evangelism' comes from the Greek root evangelon, translated 'gospel,' or 'good news.' To evangelize is to share the good news.

Many churches link evangelism with membership recruitment. A popular concept of evangelism is to get more people in the door, and sometimes the good news gets sacrificed for appeal. But I've ranted about that before.

This past weekend I visited a church in inner city Cleveland. It was a UCC church, out of the Congregational heritage; a traditional mainline building that had seen better days. The sanctuary ceiling was suffering from severe water spots, some areas peeling and black. The pews were dusty, the carpet a shade of green probably popular in the 60s. You could tour the rest of the building on old hardwood floors, and view classroom upon classroom in various states of usage and populated by classic Sunday School furniture: worn couches, ugly plaid chairs, and rickety tables. The church's membership has dwindled and greyed over the years, and as I stood in the sanctuary I imagined a time when the room was almost overflowing, including the balcony. But the days in which good faithful WASP-Cleaver types filled this house of worship (like so many others) are gone. The neighborhood demographic has changed, along with views of mainline Protestantism. Some may pronounce this church 'dying,' or worse yet, 'dead.'

What sort of ways might the good news be shared by this inner city church now? Neighborhood missions. Breathing new life into their worship. Listening to the people around them who might look to the church as a beacon of hope in a run-down area. Everyone, upon walking through this church's doors, will have their own theory. But where they must begin is with the good news, and how best to embody it in their time and place. They don't have the luxury of building a large campus just outside the city limits where it's safe, and they don't have to. Instead, the good news is for their neighborhood, and they are bearers of it, just as small country churches are for local farmers and just as small town churches are for their villagers. But that entails trusting that it truly has power to transform.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Out With the New and Back to the Old

I decided in a moment of sheer boredom that I wanted to switch back to the original black layout of this trifle of a site. I hope my seven readers don't mind too much. I think of the 'Script' layout as New Coke, and now I've switched back to the original formula. However, I expect that such a move will not produce a reaction that rivals the Coca-Cola Company's in terms of appreciative delight.

While preparing to click the mouse button that would complete the circle of my not-so-clever marketing campaign, I thought to myself, 'Why did I decide to begin this task of recording random musings in which the world might perhaps take a mild interest?' I certainly have no great aspirations of bringing to light the next corporate scandal and I shudder at political punditry. What I write here is not much different than what you could find on hundreds of other sites of various colors and layouts. What's my motivation?

I'm still trying to figure that out, I guess. I do a little theologizing or make a brief commentary on some aspect of life in general, and always deliver $0.02, whether you want it or not, on books, movies, and music that you could find anywhere on Amazon.com.

Whatever the reason, I'm going to keep writing. This might not last forever, but it will last a while.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Pop Culture Roundup

I wish I could sit here and be able to talk about Episode III, but I won't see it until tomorrow. Meantime, I have seen a movie this week. I caught S.W.A.T. on television the other day, which is basically a whole bunch of guns going off and Colin Farrel does some stuff. A foreign kingpin needs to be transported, offers $100,000,000 (pinky to lips) to whomever can bust him out, and there are lots of car crashes and chase scenes and bombs and you can skip this if you want.

I finished Beloved last night. I felt myself getting bogged down by some of the more poetic chapters, but all in all it was a good story. A black woman is tormented by the death of one of her children, whom she killed during an uncontrollable fit while a slave in Georgia. Such torment takes its toll not only on her, but on her family. I recommend it, if for no other reason than the flashbacks to the characters' days as slaves. Some parts are difficult to read emotionally and even more difficult to imagine if you've never been there, but the point is to convey such difficulty to those who never have (and never will) experience what some of these characters did.

A few more listens yield a more positive take on DMB's latest, Stand Up. It is much more polished than everything done before Everyday and even has a few Everyday-sounding moments (I think I even hear synths during a few songs). The band's trademark is the absence of most things electric, but the moments in which they do materialize are not overbearing. Dreamgirl, American Baby, Hello Again, and Louisiana Bayou provide some bright spots with Beuford's light hands driving the beat. The violin and saxophone are more infused to the whole of the songs and opportunities for them to break out individually are few. It may take a bit to warm up to the band's latest effort, but give it time. Hardcore fans will end up liking it, casual fans might like it, and anti-fans (who in my experience don't like the band more for their fans than the music) won't, but that's typical.

Around the web, Dave, the writer of The Grace Pages, has added a new blog to his repertoire, The (Will and) Grace Pages. Don't bother going there if all you're gonna do is harrass him.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Christ and Culture

Last night I turned the television on in the bedroom and then went to check my e-mail. The wife called and I ended up sitting in the den talking to her while mindlessly playing 4-5 games of Free Cell in a row (I've become quite good). You see, I have a nightly television ritual to wind down the day: two episodes of Whose Line is it Anyway? on ABC Family, then switch over to Cartoon Network for Futurama and Family Guy. Well, as I was on the phone I wasn't paying attention to the TV. On ABC Family after Whose Line is it Anyway? we get Christian Broadcast Network, a 'news' show hosted by self-endorsed political prophet Pat Robertson. I walked back into the bedroom and discovered my error. 'Oh no,' I told my wife, 'Now the Nielsen people are gonna think I was watching it.'

Before fretting about the cable ratings' opinion of me, I was leafing through a book of guitar chords and picking around. This particular book had a lot of songs in it left over from college days when I was in a praise band. I got to thinking about what makes Christian music 'Christian.' The lyrics, right? How else are you going to know, besides maybe check the liner notes to see who the band members thank (but then again, lots of gangsta rappers give mad props to God, too). I've seen this debate around the internet and among friends of mine, who have varied opinions on the quality of Christian music. If the song is just three chords and 'Jesus is good, Jesus is great,' well...don't expect a Grammy nod, let alone the interest of the general populace, or even a remote section of the populace. The counter to this is, 'Well, it's not about the music.' If you are in a band, chances are you're playing music. So it IS about the music, and that's not a valid excuse for writing unoriginal lyrics with no soul. Of the few Christian bands I still pick up on occasion, maybe half of them reference God and Jesus in every song. The rest describe life in general, a situation, a feeling, a problem, and they may not get to 'Jesus is the answer' by the last refrain. Maybe the way that Jesus is the answer hasn't yet come to the singer as s/he is wrestling with depression or the loss of a friend. Maybe they're even temporarily in a place where they can't bring themselves to talk to God yet because they're just so angry at Him.

That's real live faith, and that's the kind of Christian music I like. Jesus is good, and Jesus is great, but if that's all you're telling me, I begin to wonder about the depth with which you go through life. Or perhaps you just needed one more song to tack on the end of the album before shipping. Either way, it's not a positive thing.

As a joke, I started working on a satirical praise song a while back. I began writing it as a commentary on all the reasons a lot of my 'liberal' friends don't like praise music. This post has inspired me to take up that task again. It has awkward, almost unsingable sentences full of 'inclusive' language and in the middle the singer has to stop the song entirely to explain a lyric so no one gets the wrong idea. I hope it turns out well. But even if it doesn't, I can always say it's not about the music anyway.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Another Imperfect Take on the Trinity

My Pentecost post inspired some comments on the Trinity, that Christian idea that has no perfect explanation but doggone if everyone doesn't try. Some think of it in terms of God's function (Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer), while others adhere more closely to the classic 'God in three persons' (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). Well, I threw around some thoughts one late night when I was driving back from the in-laws', and now you get to hear them. And what perfect timing to think about such things as this coming Sunday is recognized as Trinity Sunday.

First, I say we throw out any sort of three-sided, three-component objects. No more triangles. No more intertwined circles. I prefer one circle without distinct individual parts. We get so caught up in the number three that we put forth one symbol after another that presents God as having three separate beings. In order to avoid tritheism, which is a problem we frequently run into with this idea, just eliminate symbols that present God as Man-E-Faces from Masters of the Universe (you remember him? of course you do). I emphasize the One in the phrase Three in One because we are less likely to create too big of a contrast between the three we otherwise wish to painstakingly acknowledge as one in the same. To begin with something like a triangle is a self-inflicted blow.

Now, here's how I understand the Trinity. Basically, I think of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (or for my more 'liberal' readers, Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit) as three aspects of the same God, rather than forms, modes, states of being, and so on. It is helpful to switch from the idea of God as Persons, because then we don't have to somehow account for the 's' on the end of Person, basically professing polytheism and then trying to backtrack. If we say that Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit are three aspects of one God, that is, three ways that God is ever-present to the world, this will at least help to move toward thinking of God as Three in One without the messy and misleading 'Person' language.

First, God the Father. I use Father rather than Creator because I actually intend, for the purposes of this post, to emphasize the sovereign aspect of God. This is not Father as Abuser or whatever other problem people have with male language. This is God the Father as head of Creation, the one we are called to love in the greatest commandment, the one who calls us to action. God the Father is the Transcendent aspect of God.

Second, God in Christ. As a Christian, I see and experience God most clearly in and through Jesus. Christ is Revealer of God, pointing one finger at the divine and another out to the world God created and we are to serve. Through his life, death, and resurrection Christ shows what God is about through his unique connection with the divine.

Third, God the Holy Spirit. The HS is that immanent, ever-present aspect of God, the With Us of God With Us, sustaining us and within us as part of creation. God the Spirit moves us and comforts us even as we are called to act.

So that's what I've got so far. God is eternally One, both transcendent and imminent and revealed to us in Jesus. I can't explain my take on it much better than that. I find this explanation at least easier as it saves the trouble of explaining the idea of God as three beings (and I say 'beings' with perhaps a different meaning than others as well). It has its shortfalls, to be sure, but this is what a bit of late-night theologizing produced.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Pentecost

Chris T. has commented that his favorite church celebration was yesterday, that being Pentecost, the yearly recognition of the Holy Spirit descending with tongues of fire on the disciples in Acts 2. Many also call this moment the founding of the church, although the text does not explicitly lend itself to such an interpretation. Instead, church tradition recognizes it as such, but I'm not going to make too big a fuss over that. Some also believe that before this moment the Holy Spirit was not in the world, which is also debateable even in scripture. The Spirit of God moves over the primordial waters in Genesis 1 and breathes new life into the dry bones in Ezekiel 37. Plus there is some discrepancy as to when and how exactly the disciples 'receive' the Spirit (contrast John 20 with Acts 2, for instance).

In addition, Chris laments that Pentecost is not regarded with as much flare as Christmas or Easter (I'm not sure how many people would have even worn red yesterday had I not said something the Sunday before). I replied that Christmas and Easter are more popular first in part because they have so much commercialism caked up around them, and second in part because they’re Jesus-focused. Beyond the centrality of Jesus to Christian tradition, Jesus is easier to imagine because he was human. So we gather around a baby in a manger and a dying bloodied mess on a cross because they are, to varying degrees, easier to relate to. We can at least portray these events, however inaccurately, through our own thoughts and actions. And I'll forego a rant about a tendency to skip all the stuff that Jesus did in between.

The Holy Spirit? What’s that? How to imagine or portray such a thing except through indirect means. We can either speak of the HS in terms of the Pentecost story because it involves a human component or through symbols such as fire, water, or breath. Due to its intangible nature we cannot for certain say, ‘Look, here is the Holy Spirit,’ all by itself. We attach the Holy Spirit to something else in order to make some sense of it.

So Happy Pentecost, a day late. I don't know that anyone in the history of the world has ever said Happy Pentecost, but I hope that yours was.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

'Whitewashing Jesus'

Here's a quote from Dave that is worth repeating:

'Whitewashing Jesus is when we twist the evidence to make him squeaky-clean. It's irresponsible to make a dogma such as the sinlessness of Jesus the primary interpretive lens through which we approach the gospels, at least if we're going to claim we're getting at the original meaning in its historical context. It's dishonest and unfair to approach the text with unquestioned assumptions and then claim to be finding the original meaning; and that holds whether your assumption is Jesus the Grace Teacher, Jesus the Fundamentalist, Jesus the Radical Liberal, Jesus the Second Person of the Trinity, of One Substance with the Father, Jesus the Neo-Conservative, Jesus the Egalitarian Defender of Human Rights or Jesus the Proto-Hippy. Sure, we might find elements of all those things, but when we approach the text with our minds already settled, we invariably twist things to fit our preconceptions.'

Amen.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Saturday Pop Culture Roundup, a Couple Days Early

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I'll be away from the coffee table the next few days, but God forbid I miss my weekly ode to entertainment. So you get it a few days early...not too long after the last one. Waddaya gonna do?

One other thing before I get started. I originally called this 'Saturday Recommendations' and then 'Saturday Plugs,' and then I realized that I don't necessarily want to recommend or plug some of this stuff to my small yet dedicated readership. It's more like I'm reviewing those items of film, music, literature, and the internet that I've stumbled across for better or worse over the course of the week. If you dare to pick up, for instance, the movie that I'm about to tell you about, it's your own freakin' fault. But it won't be because I mentioned it on this blog. Here, let me illustrate what I mean.

The other day I decided to watch The Sweetest Thing. Why? Because it was just starting on Comedy Central and I wanted some background noise. This throwaway piece of fluff stars Cameron Diaz and the chick from Anchorman whose name I don't feel like looking up, and combines two of the dreadful and predictable 'chick flick' genre's most cliche plots. First plot: chick falls in love with engaged guy, engaged guy (and usually the engaged girl as luck would have it) decides he doesn't want to get married (usually on the wedding day) and (SHOCK!! GASP!!) the chick and the guy end up together. What a wonderful thing when marriage doesn't work out. It's a good thing the guy who asked the girl had second thoughts just before she walked down the aisle. That was a close one. Second plot: two or more chicks go on road trip, empowered and free, and if at all possible the chick who owns the sports car has to drive. Along the way they find themselves in an unlikely string of stupid predicaments. This one includes a urinal blowing up and a guy crashing his motorcycle. Zany. This movie is best watched while doing something else that is much more interesting.

I'm afraid that it doesn't get much better, to my personal chagrin. Ever the loyal fan, I picked up Dave Matthews Band's new CD 'Stand Up,' fresh out as of midnight this morning. At first listen, I can't say that I'm impressed. They've come a long way since the winding violin and saxophone solos on 'Under the Table and Dreaming' and 'Crash.' 'Busted Stuff' was a tighter album, but in a good way. 'Stand Up' just doesn't seem to have the soul that previous outings do. But perhaps another listen will change my mind.

I'm still working through Toni Morrison's Beloved, which will take a while longer. My wife made two observations last night when she discovered that I was reading this. First: 'You read depressing books.' I look over at my nightstand to prove her wrong. The top book is Elie Wiesel's Night. All right, fine. Second: 'They made that into a movie starring Oprah.' Well, even so, I'm going to keep reading it. So there.

Around the web, there is a series of discussions on various theological topics happening between 'liberal' and 'conservative' Christianity at Progressive Protestant. Check 'em out.

Enjoy the rest of your week. Back in a few days to pick things back up again.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Some blog reading elsewhere

Dave won't be converting to Calvinism any time soon in one of those 'Lord, save me from your followers' type of scenarios.

Roopster is now a Compassionist. I'll just let you formulate your own opinion about that for now.

WesleyBlog has an interview with Beth Stroud, the United Methodist pastor who was defrocked and then refrocked after coming out a while back.

Chris shares of a fun brew he came across in St. Louis.

And later today, more somewhat disjointed thoughts on judgment.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Saturday Plugs

I just started Toni Morrison's Beloved yesterday. It's the trials and triumphs of a black woman and her daughter. I've only made it through the first chapter so far, so I don't have a whole lot else to say about it yet.

Here's another local act for your listening pleasure. I first saw Dionysia when they opened for a Dave Matthews Band cover band in St. Louis. They've got one studio album out but are working toward recording another one last I heard. They're a mix of Latin, rock, and a little funk. Enjoy. And speaking of Dave and Co., their new album comes out this Tuesday.

I've seen two new movies this week, and they couldn't be more different. The first is Ocean's Twelve, which we'd been meaning to see pretty much since it came out in theaters. Danny Ocean and his boys have to steal enough money to pay back Terry Benedict, the guy they stole from in Ocean's Eleven. Above all else, I found this to be a fun movie. It's fun. You can tell the cast is having fun, there are some fun 'how are they going to get out of this now' type moments. But you won't have nearly as much fun watching this movie if you expect one single solitary plot to carry you through. Take your pick: another thief wants to compete with Danny, Brad Pitt's character wanting to resolve things with his detective ex-girlfriend, oh yeah, and that whole pesky we-have-to-steal-a-bunch-of-money-so-Benedict-doesn't-kill-us thing. They all get wrapped up eventually, but sometimes it seemed like there was too much going on at once. But it's fun. So it's okay. I guess.

The second movie is Prey for Rock and Roll. I watched this by chance. I was flipping channels and it was just starting on The Movie Channel. It's about a now-beginning-to-age frontwoman of an all-girl...they want to call it a punk band (they're not punk...but then again by definition you shouldn't be able to define punk, yet so many do...whatever)...well, anyway she's going back and forth about hanging it up, one girl gets raped, another gets hit by a car, another has major substance abuse problems...again, a lot of plots to choose from, except these all come one after another and we don't really stick with one for too long. The acting and script reminded me of Coyote Ugly, which is not a compliment. But there is one scene that I really really liked. Shortly after the rape, the frontwoman writes a song about it and the band practices in an extended scene where all four members are completely immersed in the music, putting their passion and frustration into the song. they're swaying and getting lost in what they're doing. Elsewhere in the movie are these artificial conversations about how they take out their anger in their music, but that scene is much more real.

Around the web, Ian just ran a marathon. Read about his experience and look at his black toenails.

Have a splendid week.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Judgment - Part 1

I've been thinking about judgment lately. Many people I know put a lot of stock in 'judge not, or you will be judged.' This text speaks more about hypocrisy than anything else, i.e., 'Don't judge UNLESS you're prepared to be judged yourself.' But really, I've been thinking more about God's judgment.

'You judge people and nations by your righteous will declared through prophets and apostles.' This is the line from the UCC Statement of Faith. The Apostle's Creed includes the line that 'he will come again to judge the living and the dead.' What sort of a God is that, I ask myself. Can judgment get thrown out with a Jesus who proclaims forgiveness (and repentence, ahem)? There's a place for judgment, of course there is. One of my foundational texts is Matthew 25 ('when you did it to the least of these, you did it to me'), but I admit more difficulty when fessing up that 1) it's in the context of a judgment scene and 2) there's a downside portrayed in the story. I'll forego historical-critical speculation for just a moment, as there is something else I really want to address.

Here's why an inordinate amount of time on God's judgment is a bad thing: it frames God, first of all, as primarily in the reward and punishment business. As a result, actions by us are framed more in terms of what I get out of it. What I do becomes a matter of heaven and hell and not about love.

Jesus is asked in Luke, 'What must I do to inherit eternal life?' He answers with the two greatest commandments: love God and love neighbor. BUT....keeping these commandments so I can get to heaven makes it about me, not God or neighbor. It's the antithesis of what the commandments are about. Suddenly Jesus' message of regarding others has been shifted, thanks to theology that is dangerously over-fascinated with heaven and hell, onto me. It's love God and neighbor AS yourself, not love yourself, so you better love God and neighbor too.

I'm moving on, else I let a full-blown rant emerge. So what's the purpose of judgment? The Israelites on numerous occasions, are judged. Their enemies prevail over them almost every other week in the Hebrew scriptures (love hyperbole as yourself), only to be renewed. They return to God after a time, more committed than they were before. But at the same time, it's not really until the book of Daniel that we get any sort of allusion to heavenly judgment. And then this heavenly scenario is played out occasionally in the Gospels, in Paul, and in Revelation. But for the most part we have an Old Testament devoid of any sort of heavenly throne where God whips out a list of who's been naughty and nice (Jews don't really have that concept in their belief system). Instead, it gets played out on earth through the exodus scenario and Sinai, the judges (whodda thunkit), and the exile. We need to deal with the New Testament texts of heavenly judgment because they're there, even if it is a more Hellenistic concept.

What I've settled on is the idea that god's grace and love is a judgment of sorts. We stand convicted of God's love for us and realize how much better we can be. We can be renewed and transformed. Such judgment can serve to discipline and purify us. To one who believes that Jesus was serious about what he taught regarding the two greatest commandments, it makes sense to think that God takes our actions seriously as well.

'Judge not, or you will be judged.' Our actions are counted one way or another. But I don't know what that really means in an eternal sense. And if I take my own words seriously about not making it about me, I don't really have to.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

10 Random Thoughts for a Tuesday Evening

~I don't wanna go to my committee meeting.

~A while back a colleague opened a seminar telling a story 'when I was greener than I am now.' For some reason that phrase has stuck with me. Maybe because for me it don't get no greener and I can't wait until I can begin a story with that phrase, too.

~One of the local papers' columnists has an article about pastors who blog today. I'm not in it, but I thought it was interesting.

~After a two-week layoff, I'm back on the exercise wagon. Two months until the beach. Gotta step it up.

~Ramen noodles are the best thing since around the same time they came up with sliced bread. Maybe a couple months after or so.

~The alb was too long, so I'm having it hemmed.

~Go Pistons.

~Why do cats wait until you're asleep to walk all over you?

~I haven't heard from someone in a while. Maybe I'll call or e-mail them after my meeting that I don't wanna go to.

~That red button thing is fun, isn't it?