Thursday, June 30, 2005

Off to Synod

And that probably means no posting from me over the next week or so. But I thought I'd hook you up with a few links.

First, there's a startup UCC blog that will provide some reporting on the event. There will also be a live webcast for certain parts of the event. Click on the LIVE! link on the righthand side of this page.

Brueggemann's The Prophetic Imagination and Borg's The Heart of Christianity will be keeping me company during those parts that I don't find tremendously interesting. I'll find a nice cool spot in Olympic Park and lose myself for a while.

And that's about it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

'Mainlines' in Trouble, Part 4

I've shared my thoughts on the specific things we'll be discussing at the UCC's General Synod here, here, here, here, here, and here. So what's left to say?

Yesterday I received a letter that had apparently been sent to all Synod delegates from Ohio. It was sent on behalf of one UCC church (many members' signatures were on the back) expressing 'concern' over one of the resolutions on equal marriage rights. Another UCC congregation had sent one out a few weeks prior in support of this resolution. I've heard rumblings of another letter floating around where one man threatens to pull his church out of the UCC if this resolution passes. Three different opinions sent along to delegates, and the minority side afterwards says its view wasn't considered. This is the stance taken by the first letter I mention. There is this dichotomy at work where, because the minority viewholders don't see things work out the way they wanted it to work out, their view wasn't considered. Period. A milder take by some is that one's view is 'patronized,' but not really heard.

The other night George Bush made a nationally televised speech about the war in Iraq. I didn't watch it, but the newspaper this morning reported that he did acknowledge that the war has been hard, and he acknowledged that not everyone is happy about it. Internet pundits spin this either to mean that Bush acknowledged it and dissenters should shut up or to mean that he's 'patronizing' the minority view without changing his tactics.

Why do I bring that up? We can expect similar spin starting July 6. Synod will be over and new battle lines--theological, political, ecclesiological--will be drawn. Some will claim that what is wrong with the 'mainline' church today, at least in the case of the United Church of Christ, is that it has become too political or that the national body doesn't listen to its local entities. The case can be made for other 'mainline' groups. Consider the United Methodist Church and its struggle over 'practicing' homosexuals. Consider the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. and its internal battle over divestment from Israel.

Someone is not listening to someone else, it is claimed. And thus we get letters threatening to pull out or threats to withhold funds from national or regional projects. Whether Bush was throwing a bone to those who disagree, whether the majority viewholders at a national gathering throw a bone to those who disagree, whether any of it is genuine, finally rests at the word of the one who said it. I myself am flying to Atlanta having genuinely wrestled with the issues being brought to the floor. The letter from the church in support of equal marriage indicated that it had as well. Church members such as those deserve more credit than what they get from those who disagree.

What's all this have to do with 'mainline' churches in trouble? I'm not totally sure. Maybe some on both sides don't listen. They're too busy yelling to hear themselves. I'm planning on hearing plenty of yelling in Atlanta. Some of it I'll agree with. Some of it will make me cringe. But I hope someone else is listening.

The other side is that someone can only listen for so long. I know I have my limit and others do, too. What happens next? Well, that's to be solved another day.

'Mainlines' in Trouble, Part 3

We continue in our little series with my sharing a few thoughts on what makes a church vibrant and relevant. Some of these might seem to most of my readership as somewhat obvious. That's okay. I'm not going to reinvent the wheel here. A lot of this comes from a list I made in my journal the other day just to see what I thought. This is what I came up with:

~Worship is at least 'blended.' Hymns and theologically responsible praise songs set TASTEFULLY to a stripped down music group (nothing too big or outlandish). Theologically responsible = songs that are more than what God does for me, me, me, bathing me in blood, and God going off to kick someone's ass on my behalf. TASEFULLY = you just don't try to rock out Amazing Grace. It doesn't work in most cases. Less is more. We still follow the liturgical year because it provides us with a framework for reflection. Worship in a semi-traditional space (stained glass, crosses). We are CHRISTIAN, after all, and not trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator. But moveable chairs are set in the round with the podium at one end. Preaching is preferably done without notes, or at least with as little actual reading as possible. If vestments are used, better to use albs because they are a symbol of servanthood. Communion table is the center of the space and the baptismal font is set at the opening.

~We are mission-minded about everything. Every group that meets has a mission component, be it support physically and/or financially for a LOCAL agency. Frequent reminders that we are sent out by God, and the church exists for mission. Every potential program and project carries with it the question: How is the church's mission carried out here?

~Free dialogue in educational settings. The Bible as dialogue partner rather than textbook or instruction manual. This contributes to a living, thinking faith that encourages growth and does not let one become too comfortable. Historical inquiry is also encouraged. Questions such as 'What did this mean then?' as well as 'What does this mean now?' are asked.

I thought that this post would be longer, but I'm afraid that at this point it won't be. My hope is that with the incorporation of these elements the sacred cows to which one may cling are minimal and the encouragement to keep stretching is always present. Whether any or all of these would accomplish this is up to the collective personality of the people.

Back later with final thoughts before Synod.

Monday, June 27, 2005

'Mainlines' in Trouble, Part 2

This entry is to be a more extensive discussion of the book Why Men Hate Going to Church. Actual quotes from the book will be scarce, as I'm typing this at home and it's over in my office. But I'm going to try to get out a few main points.

First, the book's main focus group is the so-called 'manly man.' The author acknowledges that men are in church, but they tend to be more of the sensitive variety. The rugged outdoors types are more scarce. In part, it's because they see the sensitive ones and don't feel comfortable. This group of men would be much harder to reach with many current programs, even the ones geared toward men: anything involving 'sharing feelings,' hand-holding during prayers, and worship or studies that have focus themes of security, falling in love with Jesus, God as primarily comforter or nurturer.

So what does Murrow suggest instead? A focus on discipleship. A focus on risk. A focus on learning side by side rather than in a circle, a hands-on learning style. Jesus as leader rather than lover and God as sender and caller. These are all Biblical themes and they're all themes taught in the church, but Murrow suggests that they get downplayed more. Themes of safety and comfort appeal primarily to the elderly, women, and children. And by golly those are the groups that tend to show up on Sunday.

Next, men need projects rather than programs. They need short-term hands-on projects such as a Habitat build, a capital campaign or repair project, or even a softball team. I added that last one myself, but have you ever looked at the people who come out for church softball? Half of them are unrecognizable by the average churchgoer, usually because they're either long-lost husbands or ringers. A short-term project means that there's an end in sight, a measureable goal, rather than what might feel like perpetual floating round and round.

Finally, I mentioned in my last post that men follow men. This was the toughest one for me to swallow because it felt so much like a regression. Murrow suggests that men follow the lead of other 'masculine' men, strong leaders who have goals. Murrow writes, 'Yes, men are sexist pigs, but this book is about how they are, not how they should be.' Men are much more likely to follow a male pastor than a female pastor, as well as other 'manly men' who are in charge. There's more theological give-and-take that one has to deal with when addressing this.

Those are some of the main points of the book. The first point is the one that I've been thinking about the most, chiefly because I've been trying to gear things more that way anyway. The lectionary texts for the past month have been from Matthew 10, where Jesus calls disciples and tells them of the risks involved. Murrow states that a focus on texts such as these inspire men to follow because there's purpose and challenge in those words.

Now, after all this I come back to the notorious words of Ted Haggard that I cited a while back. It doesn't sound like the leader of one of the largest megachurches in the country is concerned with risk, and as churches are in some sense reflections of their pastors I doubt many in his flock are either. Well, they ARE concerned with risk...concerned with avoiding it. Chances are there are quite a few men who attend his church. So how does Murrow's thesis match up against such a huge number to the contrary?

Murrow often uses Bill Easum's Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers. I've been meaning to read this text for a couple years now. A couple times Murrow suggests that churches' so-called sacred cows might need to be sacrificed to get men passionate about Christian life and service again. Anyone who's attended a 'mainline' church has some idea of their/our steadfast adherence to how 'it's always been done that way.' And, Murrow suggests, how it's always been done turns men off.

That's enough for now. Two more entries in this little series to go. Next up: some of my own thoughts on how church programs and practices could be made more relevant.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

'Mainlines' in Trouble, Part 1

It used to be that 'mainline' was an accurate term for those within the category. This term is for more established and historical Protestant denominations: Methodist, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Lutheran, and so on. I find myself beginning to use 'oldline' a little more, and if someone can conjur a more endearing term I'd love to start using it instead. As 'non-denominational' churches are on the rise, 'mainline' is not as fitting a term any more.

The explanations for this decline are numerous and in some sense reflect one's own biases (some good, some bad). Let's just get a few theories out in the open.

~Why Men Hate Going to Church has its own explanation: the men aren't there and culturally speaking they're still the ones that other men will follow. One man sees another man going to church, they might be more inclined to come. There's an element of sexism and insecurity that underscores this explanation, but the author repeatedly states that 'this book is about how men actually are, not how they should be.' Furthermore, the author states that if the husband/father is in church, the rest of the family is more likely to attend as well. MUCH more likely, in fact.

~An explanation that has quickly become a classic among 'conservatives' is that the 'liberal' theology many 'mainline' churches profess, with its non-answers and 'anything goes' philosophy (a gross mischaracterization) turns people off, or toward churches with clearer answers and more rigid doctrine. An explanation close to this is that many 'mainline' denominations have been overtaken with those wishing to push a 'liberal' political agenda. Because we know that if 'conservatives' were in power in these churches, a political agenda would never be pushed *coughSBCcough*. Nevertheless, theological and political divides have taken their toll.

~Supporters of said 'agendas' have a much different take on the above. They're being faithful to the true gospel that Jesus preached, that is, care for the least of these. They're being prophetic, and of course that's going to upset people and compel them to leave. There's actually a certain level of rejoicing that takes place when people get mad and transfer their membership or when a church pulls out. Some see such actions as a sign that they're doing something right. Those within the UCC at least who don't agree with the stances of our national office state that such a view violates our polity as we strive to be a 'united and uniting church.' A congregational tradition that makes pronouncements from its national setting? Those citing polity cry foul.

~One of my favorites, John Cobb, writes that 'mainliners' have been suffering from a lack of theological passion. People aren't excited about what they're doing. Christian Century offers a similar commentary this week. 'Mainline' churches have been so used to being 'mainline' that they just roll with what they've been doing, not always realizing when it doesn't work any more. A 45-minute Sunday School lesson is enough to enrich people's souls every week. It's all people have time for anyway. The passion is lacking in part because people have put other things in higher priority on their schedules and in part because 'mainliners' haven't offered anything different, at least not lately. A parishioner of mine recently spoke to me fondly about the days of Wednesday night prayer meetings. I remember that it wasn't that long ago that the local banks and library closed at noon on Wednesdays so people could prepare for church activities. But with other things cluttering schedules, that's become a thing of the past in many 'mainline' churches. This point got away from me a little bit. Ah well.

~Worship is boring. Three dirges and a 20-minute lecture is not attractive to many. The other extreme of course is theologically lite choruses and a 40-minute pep talk. I've talked about this before and given my answer to it, so that's all I'm going to say about it right now.

I could continue with these, but I thought this would be enough to get us started. I haven't always been good about multi-part entries here, but this is something in which I've taken an interest recently because I need to. All of us 'mainliners' need to.

Part 2: A more extensive review of Why Men Hate Going to Church, which will touch on other points listed here.

Part 3: My own take on important elements to a vibrant and relevant church.

Part 4: Final thoughts before General Synod.

Obviously this won't be an exhaustive look at the situation. But the comments section is available for further discussion.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Pop Culture Roundup

This week I've been glued to a book entitled Why Men Hate Going to Church. If you can handle a certain amount of generalizations about what a 'real man' is, this book is for every oldline Protestant church to read. NOW. One attempt at the book's thesis statement might look like this: The church is currently a haven of old people, women, and children who hear a message of safety and non-change and about falling in love with a guy named Jesus. For these reasons (among others) this is not a place where the typical man wants to hang out. The author also goes to some length to argue that despite feminist claims to the contrary, the church is largely a women's institution. To illustrate this point, list off programs in your church and ask 1) who they might best be suited for and 2) who participates in them. The counterargument could be made that men need to learn to be more sensitive or something along those lines. The book's answer: the sensitive men are already there, and other men don't feel like joining them. The book serves as an indictment of a church that plays to sensitivity and feelings, which are important but which don't largely appeal to the typical man. Gifts are being wasted and turned away as a result. I'm still trying to digest everything this book proposes and in the near future hope to write up something more extensive. But this has to be one of the most compelling books I've read this year because, at least where I find myself, most of it is true.

We saw Batman Begins yesterday. We almost didn't because we went to see a matinee at a small town theatre on a Thursday afternoon and their policy is that they need five patrons to show a movie. Well, two more came in after us and that was close enough. To make it five, one of the workers sat in the back. Now, I'm having a hard time trying to decide if I liked this better than Tim Burton's 1989 classic. Batman Begins isn't as dark, but there's plenty of brooding and an awesome cast. The script couldn't have been written better. It boasted a healthy dose of character development (something at which Schumacher's outings were pathetic) and Christian Bale plays it very well. Plus the Batmobile is much cooler. The only thing I worry about now is the possibility that this is the first of three and the next movie might be attempting to challenge Jack Nicholson's legacy. I don't know if they should go there.

Tonight I might wander over to the annual Alivefest to see Reliant K and Switchfoot. I'm as interested in some of the paraphenelia they usually boast as I am in the bands. Last year I had to restrain myself after seeing some of the t-shirt messages they had onhand. Perhaps a review of this will be in order later as well.

Around the web, check out Real Live Preacher's analysis of the front pastors put up. It's quite good.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Barna's State of the Church 2005

For those of you who aren't familiar with his work, George Barna regularly surveys the church to see how it's doing, frequently offering an eye-opening take on the state of the American church. So his latest offering has recently come to fruition. Here's one author's take on it. Please try to stick with the article despite the irritating analogy.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Book Meme

I wasn't tagged for this, but I picked it up at Chris' site and figured why not.

Number of Books
I will venture at least 500-600 and growing.

Last Book I Read
Well, the last book I finished was Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

Last Book I Bought
I just picked one up this weekend called Journalkeeping: Exploring a Great Spiritual Practice by Carl J. Koch

Five Books That Mean The Most To Me

The Quest for the Historical Jesus by E.P. Sanders

The God of Jesus by Stephen J. Patterson

A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

Magazines I Read Regularly

Christian Century
Entertainment Weekly
US News and World Report
Relix

Who Do I Tag?
Whoever feels like carrying it on.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

'Channeling the Kingdom' - A Sermon for June 19, Father's Day

Jeremiah 20:7-13

It was about 3:30 on Monday afternoon. I had completed my other tasks for the day and decided to sit down with the lectionary texts for the week to see if God was speaking through any particular scripture passage in a way that might get the gears working for today’s sermon. So I sat on the floor in the living room, books strewn around me, and my Bible in my lap. I flipped from Jeremiah to Romans to Matthew, back to Jeremiah. A few ideas were beginning to form, but nothing that really stood out; that really held my attention.

So, being in the living room and not yet having a concrete idea about what I might run with, I absent-mindedly flipped on the television. This action had no real purpose behind it. It was just there. So maybe the background noise would provide good company or I’d connect something I’d see while flipping channels to one of the scripture passages. I decided to begin with the news, so I flipped over to CNN.

Now in case you don’t remember what was going on at about 3:30 on Monday afternoon on CNN, we were just in the early stages of anticipating the verdict to Michael Jackson’s trial. The reporters were gearing up for the afternoon’s events. Wolf Blitzer had a half dozen bodiless voices to analyze the situation. The camera shots switched from the courthouse to Jackson’s motorcade to the studio. The analysts went to work: ‘What if this happened?’ ‘What might affect the decision?’ ‘What about this?’ ‘What about this?’ ‘What happens next?’

Before I knew it an hour had passed. Like so many others, I was sucked in. Like so many others I let myself become glued to my television to watch this latest piece of celebrity melodrama play itself out. Later on I’d wonder why or how.

Well, it would be an understatement to say that Jeremiah is having a bad day in today’s reading. He’s been persecuted, made a laughingstock because of his words and his call. He cries out to God, saying, ‘You told me this was going to be easy! You told me you would take care of me when people do what they’re doing!’ Caught in the place where God’s Word meets a disobedient people, he was bound to face some of what he’s facing now: ridicule. They wish to put him away, to shut him up, to exact revenge on him for what he is saying.

Jeremiah is in pre-Babylonian days, yet telling of worse moments to come due to the people’s straying from what God wills for them. ‘We will make our own decisions,’ they say earlier in the book. ‘We have no need of God any more.’ And when Jeremiah tries to tell them different, the inevitable backlash to what he says comes upon him. ‘I wish,’ he says to God, ‘I wish you’d take this away from me. You’ve tricked me into doing this. They’re going to kill me, and you said you’d protect me from them. You said you’d prevail!’ So Jeremiah hatches a plan of his own. He’ll stop talking. No more prophesying. No more speaking God’s Word to the people. I’m going to stop doing this, and save my own life.

But when he tries stopping what God wants him to do, a curious thing happens. He can’t not deliver God’s Word. Jeremiah speaks of a fire shut up in his bones. ‘I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot.’ Jeremiah can’t stop talking. He can’t will himself to stop preaching, to stop carrying out what he’s been called to do. If he tries, it’s like he’ll explode. Imagine his wanting so terribly to stop doing what he’s doing to save his own life, but not being able to because of a deeper feeling within him that he NEEDS to speak. Imagine Jesus lying on the ground agonizing in Gethsemane praying for the cup of death to pass him by. ‘Yet not my will, but yours be done.’ Jeremiah can’t shut it in. God’s will is that he keep talking to a people who would rather see him dead.

What’s that about? Jeremiah was onto a great idea! He was about to save himself a lot more grief and pain, but he couldn’t follow through with it! It’s reminiscent of a song by All Star United that we listened to in confirmation: ‘All the saints and martyrs alike, they would’ve called a national strike. Demanded less pain, more personal gain, if only they’d known their rights.’ Jeremiah was demanding such things. He knows his rights! But he can’t bring himself to do it. The reason: he’s tuned in to God’s message and he can’t pull himself away. He has one channel on his spiritual television and there’s no switching.

The temptation for us is always there. Who wants to watch the God Channel all day long? And I don’t mean people with big hair and bigger pocketbooks, I mean the channel that shows us the world’s pain and suffering, longing for a word of hope and the world’s sin and destruction needing a word of accountability. It’s the channel that God switches us over to as we’re compelled to watch.

But who wants to watch that? The NBA Finals are on. The Travel Channel has some lovely places to visit. Reality TV tells me that I should focus on being beautiful and ruthless. The God Channel is about sacrifice, a sacrifice that Jeremiah knows all to well. He’d break his television if he could, but the Spirit is so strong within him that he can’t raise a finger to reach for his shoe.

But Jeremiah does this remarkable thing at the end of his lament. After mourning his call and carrying on about what he’d rather be doing, he gives praise to God. He gives praise? He says, ‘O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind; let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause. Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.’ After so much grief, Jeremiah returns to praise and trust for a moment. The essence of these verses is, ‘I don’t like what I’m doing. But you’ve called me to it. I will trust you because you are trustworthy.’

When I was growing up, getting set for school, my father would send the same phrase with me every morning. It would follow me out the door as I went to catch the school bus. It followed me up the walk to junior high and high school. It accompanied e-mails in college: ‘Concentrate and do your best.’ I was charged with that same phrase every day for seventeen years! ‘Concentrate and do your best.’

God’s call to Jeremiah and to us is to concentrate, to channel that one thing, the Word that God sets aside especially to us. Concentrate on what my world needs from you as my representative. Concentrate on the skills I’ve given you to build houses or to speak a word to those who have become too comfortable. Concentrate on the mission project that might strain your pocketbook but will be a blessing for others. Concentrate on your neighbor who needs a comforting touch after disaster has struck. Concentrate on my kingdom, which holds good news for the poor and the weary. Do your best to answer this call despite its risk, despite its pain. To me you have committed your cause. And I will deliver you.

This is the one channel, the only channel, that in our choice to be disciples demands our attention. We are enticed and overpowered by it. The Word that God has for us can get in our bones and compel us to do that for which we are gifted and given to do. It is a powerful thing to be overtaken by the One who moves in us. How much more powerful when we allow ourselves to get sucked in and to begin living out that Word. Thanks be to God.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Pop Culture Roundup

I've been a busy reader this week. I finished Night, which is only about a hundred pages anyway. It's one of the most personal accounts of the Holocaust that I've come across. I've seen the terror portrayed in movies, in other books, and in museums, but this was an amazing read from someone who lived it. From there I took a 180 degree turn and gobbled up Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, which is a series of essays on Christian spirituality. His humorous and candid take on Christian belief and practice make the read both enjoyable and thought-provoking. Now I'm on to The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Washing, a half-memoir, half-analysis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I'm not too far into it, but so far the personal accounts have been very educational.

Once again, this is a week where I wish I could say I've seen a certain movie *coughBatmancough* but I haven't yet. Maybe by next Friday. Come to think of it, I haven't really sat down to watch any movies this week.

Well, this past Wednesday was our 3-year wedding anniversary and, coincidentally, Dave Matthews Band played a nearby venue that night. I got our tickets the day they went on sale, so we were set for this pretty early on. It was a great show. I expected them to be heavy on their new album, which they were, but they peppered the set with enough favorites to keep me happy. Their live performance of the new stuff did a lot to enamour me to it, though. Here's the set list:

Dream Girl
One Sweet World
American Baby
What Would You Say
Hello Again
Crash
Bartender
Hunger For The Great Light
Two Step
Steady As We Go
Grey Street
Dancing Nancies
You Might Die Trying
Crush
Stand Up

Encore:
Stolen Away On 55th & 3rd
Louisiana Bayou


Robert Randolph and the Family Band were the opener, and Randolph stepped in for 'Stand Up' and 'Louisiana Bayou' as well. Their live performance gave me a new appreciation for them as well. There was a nice grit to their playing that you don't necessarily get on their albums. All in all, a great night.

Around the web, check out the Batman Begins page. I can't wait to see this film.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Finally, Some Resolution, Except Not at All

You know that saying where opinions are compared to a certain less-than-reputable body part on account of their smell and ownership by all? Well, the results of Terry Schiavo's autopsy were revealed this week and suddenly a familiar stench is in the air as everyone weighs in with their opinions.

Depending upon what blogs you read you'll get a statement about conclusive evidence from critics of keeping her alive or something about The Liberal Conspiracy from supporters. All will most likely present such opinions with some degree of solemnity and the hatred for Michael Schiavo will be proclaimed once again. Personal anecdotes of one's own tough decision for a loved one will be shared, and outrage will be expressed at the method used to 'let her die with dignity.' Everyone from Michael to the parents to the judge to the coroner to anyone named Bush will be blamed for this situation. Everyone will be accused of pushing their own agenda and everyone will be accused of not doing what Terry would really want.

I'll tell you I don't agree with the method used to put her out of her misery, (if she could feel misery), but 15 years on a tube and a hope for a miracle after repeated ultrasound stills showed a severe decrease in brain activity? For whom is one keeping another physically alive in a situation like that? On one blog a commenter pleaded that Terry's custody be turned over to her parents 'so she can live her life.' What life?

I know that on a blog that professes to talk about matters of faith, such an opinion, stinky in its own right, seems misplaced. Aren't we to cling to that hope for a miracle rather than letting her go? Couldn't one more year have made a difference? Friends, faith does not always provide a blanket answer to questions of life and death. Where might faith have been properly directed in a case like this? A couple places.

First, faith in medical staff that they knew what they were doing. Seven years of medical training isn't for nothing. These people are making use of talents and passion that they've been given and God can work through them as instruments. Part of that involves trusting their expertise rather than our own ten minutes of internet research.

Second, faith that we belong to God in life and in death, and neither can separate us from the love of God. Terry was God's beloved child in life, including her deterioration, and how much moreso in death that removed such a burden from her.

Finally, faith that we as witnesses to the drama and tragedy that surrounded this entire affair might become better informed so that if a moment of decision similar to this case rests with us we might thoughtfully and prayerfully make the best one for those whom we love.

Life goes on, one way or another. That is what faith tells us.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Emergent?

As a point of curiosity after my theological worldview quiz tied me at both Modern Liberal and Emergent/Postmodern, I decided that now was as good a time as any to visit Emergent's website to see what I could see there. My only brush with Emergent previous to this was when I picked up Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christian a few years ago, and found it quite enjoyable. I didn't even know McLaren was involved with whatever this is until maybe 6 months ago. Here's part of their 'story:'

Emergent invites you to explore this story. To come into this conversation with us. Many thoughtful Christians agree: the modern, colonial world is coming undone and a new postmodern, postcolonial world is emerging.

The world is changing politically, from Cold War era to a post-communist era, from a world of conventional and nuclear war to a world of terrorism and genocide, from a colonial world to a post-colonial one (or perhaps to a neo-colonial one).

It is changing philosophically, from modern to postmodern, from a world of absolutes and certainty to a world of questions and searching, of challenge and anxiety, of opportunity and danger.

It is changing socially and economically, as a growing global economy and the rise of the internet and other global media make the world seem smaller and more connected, yet also more fragmented and tense.

It is also changing spiritually as religions of the world cope with new challenges and opportunities … religious and ethnic strife … the loss of confidence in traditional authorities … the shift of Christianity’s
strength from the global north to the global south.


This complex and many-faceted transition calls for innovative Christian leaders from all streams of the Christian faith around the world to collaborate in unprecedented ways. We must imagine and pursue the development of new ways of being followers of Jesus … new ways of doing theology and living biblically, new understandings of mission, new ways of expressing compassion and seeking justice, new kinds of faith communities, new approaches to worship and service, new integrations and conversations and convergences and dreams.


It makes sense that we should constantly be re-imagining what it means to be a disciple in a changing world. As far as I'm concerned, that's a necessary piece. The cautious part of me wants to be careful that we don't sacrifice substance for style, but you've heard me rant about that before. I expected to find a theological statement of some sort on the site, but couldn't find one (I guess that's because Emergent stresses that it is a 'conversation'). However, they do provide a reading list which includes Walter Brueggemann, McLaren, Jurgen Moltmann, Lesslie Newbigin, and...Stanley Hauerwas? Resident Aliens is certainly one response to the new world around us, but it's a more sectarian take on things. We can probably chalk that up to providing a good illustration of Emergent's diversity (if Hauerwas would consciously associate himself with this movement in any way).

So to be a part of this 'conversation' seems to mean that it is to be a part of a theologically diverse community that is seeking one thing: relevance. But people have many different ideas about that. Hence the conversation to begin with.

Where do I stand with this movement? If the reading list that Emergent presents is any indication of the general makeup of this conversation, I wouldn't mind being a part of it at all. In some ways it sounds like what the United Church of Christ wants to be, except less institutional and with no official pronouncements. Yet.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

And here's another...

You scored as Modern Liberal. You are a Modern Liberal. Science and historical study have shown so much of the Bible to be unreliable and that conservative faith has made Jesus out to be a much bigger deal than he actually was. Discipleship involves continuing to preach and practice Jesus' measure of love and acceptance, and dogma is not important in today's world. You are influenced by thinkers like Bultmann and Bishop Spong.

Modern Liberal

64%

Emergent/Postmodern

64%

Neo orthodox

61%

Classical Liberal

61%

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan

50%

Charismatic/Pentecostal

50%

Roman Catholic

46%

Reformed Evangelical

29%

Fundamentalist

11%

What's your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com

This was slightly more surprising, given the particular description of 'modern liberal' that they give. And Spong? Ugh.

But check out what came in second: the Emergent movement. The top two actually tied. How about that.

Here are a few related posts for some background and answers to these quiz results:

What is a 'Liberal' Christian?

The Bible: Faith's Family Album

A Thinking Faith

Monday, June 13, 2005

Which Theologian are You?

Thanks to Greg for this quiz. I'm not a bit surprised at my result.

You scored as Friedrich Schleiermacher. You seek to make inner feeling and awareness of God the centre of your theology, which is the foundation of liberalism. Unfortunately, atheists are quick to accuse you of simply projecting humanity onto 'God' and liberalism never really recovers.

Friedrich Schleiermacher

60%

Paul Tillich

53%

Anselm

53%

J├╝rgen Moltmann

53%

John Calvin

53%

Augustine

40%

Karl Barth

40%

Charles Finney

33%

Martin Luther

27%

Jonathan Edwards

20%

Which theologian are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Ted Haggard on the True Meaning of Christianity

Ted Haggard, pastor of New Life megachurch in Colorado Springs and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, has an interview with Harper's Magazine. In it, he has some things to say about the Ukraine:

Kiev is, in fact, home to Europe’s largest evangelical church, and over the last dozen years the Ukrainian evangelical population has grown more than tenfold, from 250,000 to 3 million. According to Ted, it was this army of Christian capitalists that took to the streets. “They’re pro-free markets, they’re pro-private property,” he said. “That’s what evangelical stands for.” (italics mine)
Well silly me, I thought evangelical stood for sharing the good news of Christ. But I guess what it really means is being a proponent of capitalism. More reading:

In Pastor Ted’s book Dog Training, Fly Fishing, & Sharing Christ in the 21st Century, he describes the church he thinks good Christians want. “I want my finances in order, my kids trained, and my wife to love life. I want good friends who are a delight and who provide protection for my family and me should life become difficult someday . . . I don’t want surprises, scandals, or secrets . . . I want stability and, at the same time, steady, forward movement. I want the church to help me live life well, not exhaust me with endless ‘worthwhile’ projects.” By “worthwhile projects” Ted means building funds and soup kitchens alike. It’s not that he opposes these; it’s just that he is sick of hearing about them and believes that other Christians are, too. He knows that for Christianity to prosper in the free market, it needs more than “moral values”—it needs customer value.


For Pastor Ted, being a Christian is about 'customer value.' It needs to 'prosper in the free market.' It's all about 'stability.' And let's not forget that many Christians are sick of soup kitchens. Dammit, those hungry homeless people are getting in the way of my building a stock portfolio. Jesus would be appalled at their dragging me down the way they do. Discipleship isn't supposed to be difficult, after all.

I'm glad that's cleared up.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Pop Culture Roundup

I'm still working on God Is Not..., the most recent chapter being, 'a capitalist.' The author talks about various parables that Jesus told such as the Vineyard Workers and the Lost Sheep, which illustrate some bad business decisions. He never offers a definition of capitalism, and if he does I missed it. But all in all the chapter seems to say that God is simply not a money-grubbing businessman who leaves the poor to their own devices. The two have their parallels, but it would have been more helpful to read where he was coming from in terms of the system that God does not endorse. And incidentally, he is also quick to add a disclaimer that by saying God is not a capitalist he is not saying that God IS a socialist.

We watched Chicago again this week. I want to play Richard Gere's part. That'd be so cool.

I caught part of VH1's Storytellers featuring Coldplay the other night, and it reminded me how much I like 'A Rush of Blood to the Head.' So I gave it another spin. They don't write terribly complicated songs, but the use of the piano and the addictive hooks just suck me in.

Around the web, the Religious Liberal has some thoughts to share on the fallacious argument that 'liberal' churches are failing because they are 'liberal.' I'll share my own thoughts on that later.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Life in General

After what turned out to be one of my stronger weeks (IMO) of posting, I've been feeling a lull this week. There's plenty to talk about, but I've either been away or preoccupied with other matters.

I disclosed to my music committee chair this morning that I don't like a lot of the praise songs in our praise book. She actually said that she doesn't either. The songs come from a time when praise music was really hitting its stride for the Boomer generation, and a lot of them talk either about blood or God going to war on our behalf. And when the lyrics aren't atrocious, the tune is. At the same time, it boasts a few really wonderful gems that I'm going to hang onto. I'm looking forward to acquiring a CCLI license, which as far as I'm concerned will be my own license to get more modern music for worship. That and I'm beginning to write my own. Hoo-ah!

I'm finding this week's lectionary generally uninspiring. I've settled on Genesis 18:1-15, which is Sarah laughing at the thought of having a child. I'm exploring how there are many different types of laughs (a hearty guffaw to an uncomfortable chuckle), and asking what sort of laugh Sarah might have uttered, before turning to the different types of laughs that we might make when told that God will work through us in a particular way. The thing is, I can't bring myself to type a single paragraph. I pull up my outline and stare at it for an hour without pressing a key. The remedy for this, I've decided, will have to be reverting to a different style of sermon writing that I haven't used since before seminary. Once I hit my preaching class, I was typing out sermons in full manuscript form. Before that, I used an outline form that would allow me a greater measure of freedom when speaking. I wouldn't be tied down to my notes as much. I think that part of the reason I made the switch was because I'd look back on these outlines and wouldn't be able to remember what a particular note meant. One point would just say something like 'dog story' and I'd have no clue what story about a dog I had told. That didn't do me much good if I wanted to look back to re-use a sermon piece.

So there you have a few things here and there on which to chew while I go about my week. T-Minus 22 days to Synod and counting.

Monday, June 06, 2005

FIERCE Communion

While preparing to deliver home communion to shut-ins this week, I had to make a trip to buy some grape juice. I have a little kit that I take with me that includes a small container for those little styrofoam wafers, and a small bottle in which I pour the juice. Usually I take whatever juice is left over from the previous Sunday's communion, but none was left. Hence this trip.

The town in which I live is severely limited in terms of shopping options. We don't have a grocery store. We have a drug store and two gas stations. But as I was in a time crunch, I was not able to drive the 10 minutes to where we buy our food. So the drug store would have to do, as I had bought from them before. But alas, on this particular day they were out of grape juice. They had Cran-Grape juice (blech), but no straight up grape. Now, I must share that as far as I'm concerned you can do communion with Doritos and Mountain Dew, but I decided to stick to the traditional formula of bread (styrofoam) and juice. One of these days I'll hunker down with my shut-ins with some chips and soda, but not now.

So it was off to the gas station, where again they had a lot of Cran-Grape (who drinks that stuff?), but no grape. I guess one fruit is just too boring for most people. But toward the back they had one cold section devoted to Gatorade. Did they have grape? Yes, they had grape. But it wasn't just grape, it was FIERCE Grape. It's like the Ultra grade of grape juices.

So this week we're going to have our styrofoam and our cups of FIERCE grape juice. I'll have my congregants doing backflips for Jesus by the end of the week.

Secrets

This site is riveting. I had to pry my hand off the mouse so I could go to work.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Pop Culture Roundup

I gave up on Are We Hardwired? I just couldn't bring myself to get through it. What I read was informative and I'll use it for reference, but silly me for trying to pass it off as recreational reading. So I've gone to another book on my nightstand entitled God is Not... It's a collection of essays by different authors that finish that sentence in various ways: 'one of us,' religious, nice, an American, a capitalist. The premise that seems to tie each chapter together is that we ascribe to God our own projects, passions, and loyalties such that God becomes Cosmic Approver of what we do or who we are. Furthermore, the argument goes, it is easier to speak of who God is not rather than who God is, hence the approach taken in this book. I've made it through the first chapter (God is Not 'One of Us') which provides an excellent critique of pop culture but is short on a theological counter (the standard fare of 'If we just pay attention to Christ as revealed in God's Word...'). He does stress the importance of communal discernment, with which I agree.

Last weekend I finally got around to watching Ray with a couple family members. Jamie Foxx deserved that Oscar. All in all I found the movie surprising in terms of what it revealed: Charles' heroin addiction and womanizing. It was my own mistake thinking this would just be a rags-to-riches blind-man-overcomes-handicap sort of thing. The movie picks up long after he's overcome his handicap. The film progresses through his early career and his coming to grips with a traumatic childhood, as well as his addiction. Near the end he seems to overcome it all at the same time, and then the movie gives us a brief synopsis of the next 40 years of his career before the credits roll. I didn't really like that part, but the rest of the movie was enjoyable.

In the CD player has been Gov't Mule. I might have mentioned them before. Their album 'Dose' is groovy.

Around the web, check out A Religious Liberal Blog. I've added a few other blogs to the list as well. Enjoy.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Synod Resolutions: The Non-Issues

'No, not the church! Jesus lives there!' - Rev. Lovejoy

Two Synod resolutions fall under this category, which perhaps carry with them more baggage than any other resolutions to be presented. I'll show you what I mean.

The first is a resolution entitled 'The United Church of Christ is a Christian Denomination Where Jesus is Lord.' Who said it isn't? The first line of the text asserts that 'The greatest issue facing our denomination is whether or not to acknowledge the Lordship and divinity of Jesus, which is the most basic of all Christian teachings.' How did the drafters discern that this is the greatest issue facing our denomination?

This is the first line of the second paragraph of the UCC Constitution: 'The United Church of Christ acknowledges as its sole Head, Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior.' The resolution mentions this, but apparently it's not enough. Article IV, paragraph 8 of the Constitution says, 'A Local Church is composed of persons who, believing in God as heavenly Father, and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour...' Oh wait, the resolution mentions that, too. In the liturgy to welcome new members AND for confirmation the question is asked, 'Do you profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?' Oh, the resolution caught that one, too. So what's the problem? The resolution, given its context in a denomination with all the afforementioned language included in its Constitution and its liturgy for welcoming new members and confirmation, is redundant.

The other piece of the resolution is its call to explicitly mention Jesus' divinity, which seems to really be the underlying issue for its drafters. They propose a particular definition of the creed, 'Jesus is Lord,' which is made more explicit by this part. When I say that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, I need a moment to clarify what I mean. When I speak of Jesus' divinity, I also need to clarify what I mean. This resolution, after being redundant, wants to clarify for me what I mean.

On the whole, given a few slight changes, I wouldn't have a problem with this resolution. Unfortunately, if this resolution is not passed, let alone as it is currently worded, it has the potential to be used to further prop up some claims that the UCC is not Christian or at least that it has a strong non-Christian element ('See? They didn't pass the resolution professing to be Christian.'). But since the resolution will be there, let's amend it slightly, send it through, and be done with it.

The other resolution calls the UCC to reaffirm the 'Cross Triumphant' as the primary symbol of the denomination. Why? 'The symbol of the comma, while understood by many to simply express an effort to promote the UCC to a new generation of unchurched, has been mistaken by others as a symbol for the church itself.' We can't control how everyone else views the comma. On the other hand, who might mistake the comma for the UCC symbol when the Cross Triumphant is included on most 'God is Still Speaking' merchandise, INCLUDING the StillSpeaking website?

Here are two Whereases which are irrelevant to the resolution:




And Whereas: Some in the United Church of Christ have promoted an ideology in which Jesus Christ is not sovereign, nor our sole head and savior, but one among many religious paths that have equal validity in the sight of God. And, that this ideology has conflicted our unifying madate to fulfill the great commission of Christ.

And Whereas: Some in the United Church of Christ have seemingly sought to change the churches' message of the gospel of transformation through the power of Christ's death and resurrection, for an ungrounded grace extended unconditionally to anyone on the basis of self defined righteousness.


This resolution's purpose is to promote a symbol. These two pieces seem to be axes that are best ground elsewhere (maybe in the other resolution mentioned here). Furthermore, the Cross Triumphant can be found twice on the UCC's main page (and nearly every other page on the site), many local UCC church websites, the front cover of every United Church News, and many other places related to the United Church of Christ. There is no co-opting or eclipsing by the comma to be found.

In addition, let's be honest. Many more 'conservative' elements in the UCC are currently unhappy. They haven't liked what's been going on at our national setting for some time. Resolutions such as these are one manner in which they voice that unhappiness. 'The UCC has strayed from The Faith,' they say. I wonder just how many people of whom these resolutions are supposedly the subject would stand up and say, 'You know what? You're right. Jesus is NOT my Lord. I WOULD rather extend an 'ungrounded grace unconditionally to anyone on the basis of self-defined righteousness.' Let's replace the Cross Triumphant with the Comma.' I'm willing to bet that if the contingent that would actually say that exists, it is very tiny.

This post has been modified.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Synod Resolutions: The Practical

Marge: Sermons about constancy and provicitude are all very well and good, but the church could be doing so much more to reach out to people.
Lovejoy: Oh, I don't see you volunteering to make things better.
Marge: Well, okay, I will volunteer.
Lovejoy: I wasn't prepared for that.

The last one was so short, I figured I'd double up on my review of General Synod resolutions today. This post focuses on the category that I have deemed the 'Practical,' which includes resolutions declaring support for campus ministries, calling on churches to work toward becoming more handicapped accessible, a proposal to change the layout of General Synod, and the advocating of adequate compensation for UCC lay employees. I deem them as such because they specifically relate to UCC practice in a variety of ways.

The UCC's financial status is definitely not great. At the national level, many positions have had to be cut over the past several years, and one such position was the staff position resourcing campus ministries. This resolution calls upon one of our national entities, Local Church Ministries, to make up for this loss somehow. In essence, the resolution calls local churches to get more involved in campus ministries. As one who can tesify to college being a crucial time in young people's faith development, I say 'Amen' to this resolution. Of course, how to do it is the next thing.

In my post discussing the 'Fluffy' resolutions, I quoted a resolution that lists off all the declarations available for UCC churches to make about themselves, one of which is Accessible to All. This declaration refers to accessibility to those physically handicapped. Apparently some feel that that declaration has not received enough attention, so here we have a resolution calling upon the entire UCC to pursue such a declaration. Citing the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and 'The Great Messianic Banquet' (we must assume Luke's parable I guess), this resolution calls upon all UCC entities to 'remove or overcome barriers to welcoming and including all people in the work and witness of the United Church of Christ...' This is borderline 'Fluffy,' but it relates to more specific ways in which local churches might include people with disabilities. While resolutions combating discrimination by other criteria are likely to cause more of an uproar, this relates more to the physicality of our buildings.

A resolution on which I will not spend a good deal of time is one advocating two types of Synods: the first, more representational; basically the way it is now. Delegates from local churches and associations come together to vote as representatives. The second Synod would be senatorial and would require two delegates from each conference. These two types of Synods would alternate every two years. This resolution's primary intent is to cut costs. To cut to the chase, I'm not convinced that this change is needed and do not see what monumental money-saving opportunities this presents.

Finally, there will be a resolution presented supporting the availability of pension benefits to lay employees of the UCC. The UCC pension plan is available to all ordained clergy, but apparently at this time only 9% of lay workers 'enjoy[...]any level of similar recognition of service.' But 'enjoy' and 'have available' are two different things. Whether they have it available or not is less clear in this resolution, only that 9% 'enjoy' such benefits. So it might behoove those of us about to vote on this to check into that a little more.

Maybe if I'm feeling really ambitious, I'll go ahead and comment on the last category later this evening. We'll see.

Synod Resolutions: The Mildly Divisive

Can ya name the truck with four wheel drive.
Smells like a steak and seats thirty five
Canyonero...Canyonero...

This category was originally 'The Mildly Politically Divisive,' but I scratched 'Politically' because they could be divisive in other ways. And I say 'Mildly' because there are typically a group of resolutions like this that come before Synod that play to some people's particular social justice interests yet may just be ignored by everyone else. Most may feel that they can't be bothered by some or all of these issues.

So this year we have concerns for Native Hawaiian Prisoners' religious freedom, support for the International Criminal Court, and advocating stewardship of God's creation in an age of declining fossil fuels (this one might also be filed under 'Fluffy'). After realizing how long-winded the last post got, I'm just mentioning these and moving on.

A resolution advocating 'fair trade' coffee will come to the floor this year, which has been an interest of mine for a while now. You can find a good FAQ page on 'fair trade' here. Basically, 'fair trade' assures a fixed price on coffee, the second most highly traded commodity in the world behind petroleum, in order that those who farm coffee and their communities might recieve a more just payment for their work. Like every program, it still has its flaws, some of which are mentioned here (although this particular list speaks in terms of 'coulds' and 'mights'). Others might argue against 'fair trade' because they'll automatically denounce anything that carries with it even a whiff of socialism. Nevertheless, this is a resolution and program that I'd support, and that includes striving to improve it.


The one other resolution that I've placed in this category is one that speaks against the privatization of Social Security. I admit that I'm not well-versed on this issue and its place in the 'Mildly Divisive' category is also questionable. This is another one that I'll tackle at a later date. Chalk it up to my rushing to talk about Synod without being fully prepared. I've got a month. No big deal.