Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The UCC's Lawsuit in North Carolina

On Monday, my denomination, the United Church of Christ, filed a lawsuit challenging North Carolina's ban on same-sex marriage:
A group of Charlotte-area ministers have helped launch the country’s first faith-based challenge to same-sex marriage, claiming in a lawsuit filed Monday that North Carolina’s laws block them from practicing their religion. 
The local religious leaders, who include a rabbi, are joined by colleagues from Asheville and Raleigh along with a national denomination, the United Church of Christ. All of them support the rights of same-sex couples to marry. 
They say state prohibitions, including a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2012, violate their First Amendment right of freedom of religion. 
“The core protection of the First Amendment is that government may not regulate religious beliefs or take sides in religious controversies,” says Jonathan Martel, a Washington, D.C., attorney helping with the case. 
“Marriage performed by clergy is a spiritual exercise and expression of faith essential to the values and continuity of the religion that government may regulate only where it has a compelling interest.”
This is the first challenge to a state marriage ban based on religious liberty. Part of the law in North Carolina makes it a misdemeanor for clergy to perform a wedding ceremony for same-sex couples. If one would do so, he or she would face 45 days in jail and a fine of $200. The argument from the UCC is that it is a violation of the First Amendment for the NC state government to decree what can or can't happen within a house of worship if a pastor or church believes that it is in line with their tenets of faith that same-sex marriage is to be celebrated and blessed.

I've tried to find whether the lawsuit is specifically challenging the part of the law that makes performing such a ceremony a crime, but the language in the article quote above and others I've read suggests that the entire ban is being challenged with this piece as the entry point.

As Mark Joseph Stern at Slate points out, this particular argument of religious liberty might not gain traction with the usual groups that champion it in cases such as wanting an exemption from parts of the Affordable Care Act or wanting to refuse the business of same-sex couples. The simple reason for that is that it doesn't fit the overall narrative or worldview of such groups. But this is still a restriction on religious liberty. Imagine states limiting religious ritual in other ways, declaring limits on things like baptism, communion, funerals, or membership. Imagine declarations being made on worship times, what clergy can and can't preach about, or which Biblical texts one may use (those Gospels can be pretty subversive at times, after all).

It's worth noting that this is phrased positively rather than negatively. The plaintiffs in this case want to affirm and celebrate the love between two people rather than seek an exemption or the right to refuse. Isn't it somewhat strange that clergy and churches have to fight for their right for such affirmation and inclusion? Why shouldn't such affirmation be protected, as much as if not moreso than the right to object and exclude?

Nobody was forcing religious people to perform such weddings before this ban, and nobody will if it is overturned either. But some are currently being threatened with punishment if they do. It is one's liberty to not participate in these ceremonies, but it is currently expressed and codified by limiting the liberty of those who desire such participation.

I and many others will certainly be watching with interest as this case unfolds over the next few months.
 T
Re
akuhjjhgkgd more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/04/28/4871111/united-church-of-christ-sues-over.html#.U16ZisbHMpH#storylink=cpy

Monday, April 28, 2014

Reuniting at Eden Seminary

As I mentioned back in January, I anticipated that this year would be a year of big decade milestones. The first one comes officially next month, but the celebration was just this past week as I traveled back to Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis for their spring convocation and for my 10-year class reunion.

It's been a few years; various circumstances have kept me away lately, but I knew that I wanted to be back for this one. Eden has been a beloved, meaningful place for me that served as a site of incredible growth and learning, and to make the trip for this event was very important to me regardless of the program offered.

Thankfully, the drive was like falling off a log. It was long, but it was very familiar. I remembered directions, landmarks, roads…even after so long, it came quite easily. I was thankful that, even as I reached the complicated web of highways close to the bridge over the Mississippi River, I could recall exits and merge lanes that eventually landed me at my hotel, and to campus the following day.

The theme of the gathering was "Power: Its Use and Abuse." It featured Dr. Thomas Long, he of the defining preaching textbook The Witness of Preaching, as well as three of Eden's newer professors, each speaking on something related to this topic.

Professor of Old Testament Laurel Koepf Taylor went first, sharing some of her research regarding how children are viewed in scripture, in history, and in modern times. This was one of the more impactful lectures of the gathering for me, as she noted that actions, policies, attitudes, and emphases of churches and societies reveal how they value children more than mere rhetoric (although she also pointed out how much rhetoric about children is used, particularly around election time). I came away from this lecture thinking about my own church's practices regarding children and what they say about how we value them. It was quite thought-provoking.

Adam Ployd, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology, was up next with some thoughts on Augustine and the way his theology, for better or worse, continues to influence the church and individual Christians. He talked quite a bit about progressive Christianity's relationship to civil authority, and how we--like many other strands--critique it and want it to work for us when each seems to work to our advantage.

Dr. Long was up the following day for some reflection on parabolic preaching. He talked about how a narrative style of preaching--as opposed to more didactic styles favored particularly by megachurches--can provoke and subvert listeners' thinking, much like Jesus' parables. Both times that I've heard Long speak, he has quite a unique way of delivering his material that is incredibly captivating. I was totally fanboying the entire time.

Finally, we heard from Leah Gunning Francis, Professor of Christian Education, on the narrative of young black men presented by the media and the importance of presenting a counter-narrative. She used the examples of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, two young men killed and whose murderers walked free in part because the narrative presented about Martin and Davis were that they were angry threatening thugs who needed to be put in their place, part of a larger story that many outlets and pundits seemingly want to keep in place for a variety of reasons. This was a powerful, convicting lecture that really stirred the audience's passion and emotion.

So the program was good, but that's not all I did. I had to have pizza at Racanelli's. And frozen custard at Ted Drewe's. And Schlafly beer with at least one meal (and a couple cases to bring home). While I didn't get to my favorite coffeehouse, I did experience a newer place called Blueprint Coffee, which brews their own blends right then and there and serves it to you in a beaker. A beaker. There was time to reminisce and reflect, to catch up with good friends and colleagues and professors, to experience the ever-changing look and landscape of the campus and surrounding community.

It wasn't just the classwork that formed and shaped me during those three years. It was the entire experience of Eden and St. Louis. It was a pale ale shared on a Friday evening while swapping stories from field education placements. It was late evening sessions reading for class at a half dozen different coffeehouses around the city. It was sunny Saturday afternoons at Grant's Farm or just lounging in the apartment courtyard. And so to be able to revisit where all that formation happened, even so many years later, was so refreshing for my soul.

Don't get me wrong. The place is different. There have been renovations and reconfigurations. But I didn't and don't want to be that alumni who constantly grouses about the Old Days. Those times were wonderful, but building on them has been just as important for me in the past ten years as referencing back to them, much like the institution itself seems to be seeking to do.

I wouldn't have missed this milestone for anything. Well, almost anything. But I was so thankful to be able to attend. I hope that it won't be so long between visits next time.

Friday, April 25, 2014

April 2014 Pop Culture Roundup

Five items for April...

1. We saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier the weekend that it came out. Here we meet Steve Rogers post-Avengers, where he's wondering about his place in S.H.I.E.L.D., and really in the modern era in general. There are some great introspective moments where he notices the differences in how combat, intelligence, and freedom is used and valued, and he wrestles with whether he fits in. There is also some intrigue as "Cap" tries to help uncover some suspected corruption within the organization. In the midst of it all, he also needs to deal with the mysterious Winter Soldier, who can pretty much match him move for move and strength for strength. Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson also reprise their roles as Nick Fury and Black Widow and are pretty integral to the overall plot. The first Captain America had a certain feel to it that they were rushing to churn it out in order to get to The Avengers, but this felt more even and had better pace and flow. In fact, I'd even call it one of the better films in the Avengers-related franchise.

2. Wrestlemania XXX was this month, and I haven't missed watching one live since 2007. There was something different about this one that made me want to watch it over again…I haven't usually been inspired to do that. The biggest news that actually made it into some mainstream outlets was the end of The Undertaker's undefeated streak at the event at the hands of Brock Lesnar. The match itself was actually pretty bad: Taker is pushing 50 and only wrestles at this event any more due to The Streak, and he was showing it. The pin itself came out of nowhere, which made it all the more surprising and effectively sucked the wind out of the entire stadium. I'm guessing this was Taker's last match, which is probably good for everybody. The other big news was Daniel Bryan winning the WWE World Championship after some eight months of frustration, resulting in a memorable and cathartic end to what I think was one of the better Wrestlemanias in history.

3. Over the past few years, Dave Matthews Band has been releasing recordings of what they consider to be especially notable live shows under the banner of Live Trax. The other week, they released Live Trax 29, which happens to be last summer's show at Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Coffeewife and I were at that concert, but we had to leave early as she was about six months pregnant at the time and the discomfort got to be too much for her. And of course after seeing the complete setlist the next day there is that feeling of regret, i.e., "Aw, they played that?!" Well, now we can enjoy the full concert. It's not quite the same, but at least we can hear what we missed.

4. I've also been enjoying Ingrid Michaelson's newest album, Lights Out. It's her familiar mix of whimsical pop-rock anchored by the single "Girls Chase Boys," which you likely have heard by now. I've always liked Ingrid, and she's produced another good one here. Here she is performing the song recently on The Today Show:



Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


5. It's been a month for superhero sequels, because we also watched Thor: The Dark World this past month. As with other franchises, this takes place after The Avengers and references the events in that film several times. In addition, of course, Thor is still pining for Jane Foster, who is doing likewise but carrying on with her scientific career. However, when she stumbles into a mysterious and powerful element called The Aether, it not only brings Thor back into her life, but also the Dark Elfs headed by Malekith who want to use it to turn the nine worlds dark and rule over them. To defeat Malekith, Thor has to turn to Loki of all people to help. The characters who have clearly grown since the events of both the first Thor and The Avengers, and that added depth along with some imaginative and top-notch effects made this better than the first outing. Sometimes sequels feel like lazy retreads, and sometimes they're more expansive follow-ups that delve deeper into who the characters are. I was lucky to see two of the latter this month.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Vintage CC: A Post-Easter Conversation

This post from May 2011 is one of my all-time favorites. I had it in my head for years prior to actually writing it, and I love how it turned out. Easter always has a big circle around it on the calendar for me as a pastor, and even if things don't seem to connect exactly the way I think they should, there are more important things to remember, anyway.

Even as it takes its place in the noonday sky, the sun is still tempered by the crispness of late April. The frost has melted, but it now seems to hang just over one's head instead, a shield of sorts from more blistery days that are still weeks away. The birds have long been up to greet it: some pick at the dirt in between blades of grass rediscovering their green, while others playfully hop from branch to branch, their chatter dripping from the air's moisture along with the smell of tulips and dogwood.

I'm sitting on the front steps of the church, the grey concrete chilled by shadows cast by the steeple and the trees. I've long said goodbye to the last worshipper, all of them now scattered to homes smelling of ham or turkey and sounding like young children excitedly examining baskets of candy and coloring books. My tie hangs loose around an unbuttoned collar, my dress pants provide the slightest protection from the cool stone. I'm slowly making my way to the bottom of a bag of candy-coated Hershey eggs, taking them two or three at a time. I couldn't tell you why I decided to linger; why I sent my family home and told them not even to wait to eat. But I suspect that it has something to do with him.

The brown of his skin is darker than many would think, the sun adding a golden sheen that almost causes him to glow, though it's nothing like the paintings. His hair and beard are bushy and bedraggled, curly and short, as far from the flowing locks of Europe as you could get. His robes, however, are pretty much what you'd expect: a light tan tunic over a clean white robe. It's the sound of his sandals against the pavement, however, that really gets my attention: the crunch of a stray piece of gravel underneath, the accidental scuff that sends another into the grass where it noiselessly rests. These are what get my attention; they bring the reality of this moment into view.

Jesus just saunters up, gathers up his robe in preparation, and sits down beside me. He smarts slightly at the cold of the steps, at which I can't help but smile. I offer my bag of eggs, and he happily takes a few. We don't speak for a while, which lets us both settle into this time before having the conversation that we'll need to have. I steal a glance at his face, and sit amazed at how young he looks. Of course, I think...he's only a year older than me. What did I expect? Shaking it off, I wait to see who'll speak first.

"So," he says, "how'd it go today?"

I shrug. "They played tic tac toe."

"What?"

"The high schoolers. They were playing tic tac toe or something during my sermon. I saw them. One of them even looked up to see if I'd noticed, like they were getting away with something; like I'm a moron." I pop another egg into my mouth before I get too carried away.

He helps himself to another handful as well. "That's the first thing you respond with? A couple kids drawing on the bulletin?"

I straighten the folds of the bag, glad that I have something to fidget with. "Yeah, I guess. I worked hard on that sermon. You know how long I think about what to say for this day. You know how much I agonize over it. I want people to remember this one. If they hear one damned thing I say all year, I want it to be something from today."

I suppose that somebody who has seen what he's seen wouldn't really flinch at my language, but I look out of the corner of my eye anyway, just to make sure. He's watching a robin flit his wings in a leftover rain puddle, so I suppose I'm good.

He picks up a few pieces of gravel and moves them around in his palm with his finger. "So. All that preparation, and not everyone seemed to end up paying attention. Some of the stuff you've told me over the years, I can't believe that you're shocked by that."

"I'm not shocked," I mumble. "Just disappointed."

"Yeah, I get that." He turns his hand sideways and lets the stones fall back to the ground. "And that's going to be your lasting memory from today, huh?"

My shoulders sag. I know where this is going. "Yeah, I get it. I shouldn't let that one thing overshadow the good stuff. I got a lot of compliments and appreciation. A lot of people really did seem moved by the service. So I should just focus on that and move on, right?"

Jesus pops another egg. "Yeah, I guess. Why not?"

Now I have to turn my head and look at him. "Great. Thanks for the pep talk."

It's his turn to shrug. "You're the one who came up with the cliched answer, not me. You think I came all this way to feed you the same crap you've been reading in all those ministry books?"

This stuns me to silence. Jesus takes the bag and pours the four remaining eggs into his hand before crumpling it and handing it back to me. For a while the birds and the crinkle of plastic are the only sounds shared between us.

He holds out an egg. "I get that you're disappointed. And I'm not going to tell you anything you don't already know about that. You've been at this long enough now that you've found ways to let that stuff roll off your back and not get too hung up on it. Obviously it still upsets you, though. And that's good, too."

"How is that good?"

"Ask yourself this: why do you always work so hard on your Easter sermon?"

This brings another pause in the conversation. I think that we both know the answers to that, not all of them necessarily honorable. But he clearly wants me to say them, so I have no choice.

I sigh, and then I rattle them off. "Because...this is the only service that some people attend all year, and I want them to remember it. Because it's a bigger crowd, and I want it to be worthwhile. Because it's Easter, and I want people to actually know and feel like it's a big deal. It's the freaking heart of our faith, so show a little enthusiasm, dammit!"

Jesus tries to stifle a chuckle. Teenagers playing games and now this.

"Sorry," he says. "You're clearly fired up about this. Okay, so in all those reasons, what do you notice?"

I think back over what I just said. "Uh...it's what I want for them?"

"Bingo. You want people to remember this service, you want it to be worthwhile for them, you want people to be excited. Those are good reasons. It's kind of in the spirit of...what did you people end up calling it?" Jesus thinks for a moment and then snaps his fingers. "The Great Commission! 'Go and make disciples of all nations.' Obviously, it took some enthusiasm and excitement about the message for that to happen, right?"

"Yeah..."

"But it also took something else. It took some sincerity. It took those guys honestly caring about the people they interacted with for them to say what they wanted to say. Can you imagine if my followers just approached people out of the blue just to present some rehearsed talk about me for fifteen minutes, with no real connection made?"

I wince. "Well, actually--"

"Yeah, I know. The point is, you get yourself so worked up about this service and this sermon, why? Because you care about these people. It was bound to happen. You care about those kids drawing pictures and wishing it was lunchtime not just because you want to see some reward for your time and effort but because you really want something to happen inside them, something good and lasting and life-changing. Yeah, it didn't seem like it happened today, but it still might. And you may or may not ever see it. But are you really going to wait until a couple people seem to finally respond before you can feel satisfied?"

I lightly rub my jaw. "No. I guess not. That'd be kind of a crappy way to pastor a church."

Jesus stands and dusts himself off. "Yeah, it would. And you haven't been here this long just because a few kids don't seem terribly interested in worship."

I have to squint as I look up at him, the sunlight beginning to creep onto the front lawn. "No. It's because these people really are in my heart and I can't just pick up and leave."

"Yep. You're pretty much screwed as far as that is concerned. They've got their hooks in you real good." Jesus smiles as he reaches out his hand to help me up. "And as long as you keep ministering to these people from that point of view, you'll all be okay."

I take his hand and stand. We just look at each other for a moment, knowing that our meeting is at an end. He gives a wink before turning to walk away. As if remembering something, he stops and turns back.

"I did think that 'Christ the Lord is Risen Today' was magnificent, by the way. Your organist really opened it up for that."

I crack a smile. "She always does. I look forward to it every year."

He nods in understanding. "I know. A lot of them do. If whatever you say doesn't hit, at least you'll always have that."

He turns back and continues his walk. I only watch for a moment before knowing that I need to get home to my own family. I make my way across the empty parking lot to my car, taking my time as the remnants of the morning evaporate.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Holy Week Video Meditation

I created this video meditation for last night's Maundy Thursday service. Perhaps it will aid in your own Holy Week journey as well. Have a blessed conclusion to this Lenten season.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

"Far Different" - A Prayer for Palm Sunday

Matthew 21:1-11

On roadsides and street corners
Our feet curling over curbs
Our necks straining in anticipation
We hope for a glimpse of the holy.

We have our own ideas of what it will look like
With our cloaks spread on the brick and
Our list of demands in hand;
Our lips parting in songs of praise and welcome,
Our thoughts churning with what will be done for us.

And when the moment arrives,
The Promised One comes into view
Far different from what our mental images professed.

Riding a simple and slow beast,
Dressed in common regalia,
He passes by
And if one listens closely, it can be heard:
“Love your enemies.
Pray for the orphan.
Feed my sheep.”

It is here that we have a choice:
To take up your demands instead of ours
Or point accusingly and try forcing you to conform.

Where will peace come if not from where we expect?
Through him you call,
Refusing our categories;
Pointing to love and grace and truth.

In a display of humility we are shown power.
We watch him ride past
Inviting us toward a new beginning.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Leaving Evangelicalism

On April 1st, Rachel Held Evans wrote some thoughts in the aftermath of a week when World Vision announced that they would employ people in same-sex relationships, then backtracked a few days later after thousands of good, faithful, evangelical, Bible-believing Christians threatened to, or really did, pull their sponsorships of impoverished children.

Please note the sarcasm in the last paragraph. Read no further unless you can see it. Thanks.

In part, here is what Rachel wrote:
For many years, I felt that part of my call as a writer and blogger of faith was to be a different sort of evangelical, to advocate for things like gender equality, respect for LGBT people, and acceptance of science and biblical scholarship within my community. But I think that perhaps I became more invested in trying to “fix” evangelicalism (to my standards! oh the hubris!) than in growing Kingdom. And as helpful as I know that work has been for so many of you, I think it’s time to take a slightly different approach. 
So rather than wearing out my voice in calling for an end to evangelicalism’s culture wars, I think it’s time to focus on finding and creating church among its many refugees—women called to ministry, our LGBTQ brother and sisters, science-lovers, doubters, dreamers, misfits, abuse survivors, those who refuse to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith or their compassion and their religion, those who have, for whatever reason, been “farewelled.” 
Instead of fighting for a seat at the evangelical table, I want to prepare tables in the wilderness, where everyone is welcome and where we can go on discussing (and debating!) the Bible, science, sexuality, gender, racial reconciliation, justice, church, and faith, but without labels, without wars.
To me, Rachel sounds very tired. She's tired of trying to be part of a strand of Christianity that seems to be becoming narrower, more insulated, and further from what she and many others believe to be what following Jesus really looks like. And as she says above, being "a different sort" in the same camp just doesn't seem to be worth it any more. This World Vision issue just seems to be the final straw. What seems more fruitful, on the other hand, is to create a new community among others who feel disaffected from that larger community.

As one born and raised in the United Church of Christ, a tradition notably more progressive and inclusive, I support what Rachel is doing. Her message is really one not unlike what many in the UCC have adhered to for a number of years. She and many other Millennials in particular seem to be drawn to an incarnation of faith that is more welcoming.

This is not without some pain, of course. Even though one may seek sanctuary in a new community, it also means severing ties with an old one. Even though certain beloved practices may carry over, it still won't be the same. Some relationships might not survive. Some beliefs, even treasured ones that had once served as lifelines or helped provide a sense of commonality and belonging, might not either.

My own stay in evangelicalism was not extensive. It didn't last more than a few years in late high school and early college just as I was starting to really wrestle with both my faith and a sense of call to ministry. You might say that I dabbled at best, as even when I was deepest in certain aspects of the evangelical tradition, my experience was still colored by my UCC background and the scholarship of my religion classes, which kept me from ever really going "all in," as it were.

I felt like an exile for a little while after it became clear that I didn't really belong. Like Rachel, I tried to hold on but I should have let it go a lot sooner than I did. Some of us have such good intentions and high hopes about remaining, and are quite often disappointed.

For a while, I stayed in that exile mindset. But nowadays, I think that maybe I'm more supposed to be one of the ones helping to provide sanctuary. I can relate to the experience, sure, but how many of us may be called more to provide a safe haven for those who have finally realized that they can no longer stay, and who grieve not only leaving but what caused them to conclude that leaving was their best option?

It can be a huge and painful thing to leave the faith tradition that helped shape your life, especially after realizing that it will no longer make room for you; that even though you've changed, it refuses to change with you.

I hope that I can do my part to be welcoming; that I can listen to and honor what evangelical exiles need. Sometimes I wonder how well we communicate that there are other possible places where they can hopefully find the fellowship and understanding that they need.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Small Sips Ends Up Ranting a Little

Well, how about that. Charles Arn shares a "surprising secret" to church growth, which is neither surprising nor a secret:
Several years ago, a study by the largest Protestant denomination in the country found a startling relationship between the length of time pastors had been in their churches and the growth or decline of those churches. 
Their finding? 
Approximately three-fourths of their growing churches were being led by pastors who had been in their church more than four years, while two-thirds of their declining churches were being led by pastors who had been in their church less than four years. Their conclusion (with which I agree): Long-term pastorates do not guarantee that a church will grow. But short-term pastorates essentially guarantee that a church will not grow.
You may recall when I made it a point to study what goes into building a long-term pastorate a few years ago. My reasons at the time were more personal: I wanted to break out of the cycle of moving all the time that I'd known my entire life up to that point. I just wasn't used to staying in one place for longer than a certain amount of time, so I decided to read up on what might go into staying longer.

Some might ask what the usefulness of this topic is in a broader sense. Why should anyone have a vested interest in maintaining a longer pastorate beyond just not wanting to move as often? Well, here's your answer: Arn finds that longer pastorates tend to produce growth, stability, and trust.

Who knew? Oh wait, I did.

So many laughs. We've been enjoying these "Kid Snippets" videos. The gist is that kids come up with the dialogue and then adults act it out:



Get with the program. Or better yet, don't. Jan at A Church for Starving Artists shares thoughts on the usefulness of church programs:
The worst kind of programming – in my estimation - involves going, sitting, hearing, and leaving with new information. But nothing changes. No souls have been transformed. No cultures have been shifted. No vision has been cast.  
The Program Church is Over. The Relational Church is Essential in 21st Century ministry. 
For the record, some of the best ministers I know do what they do best via programs. But the difference is that the purpose of their program planning is about building relationships between each other and God. It’s not about college-application-resume-building or making the elders feel like the staff is earning its money because the calendar is so full of stuff to do.  
Especially during Lent, you’d think we would slow down a little. But alas . . .
In part, this sounds like a quality vs. quantity issue. Are we "program-sized" churches throwing out tons of activities just to look busy, or are we intentionally planning events or groups to help transform lives and build relationships?

I'd rather just quote this whole thing. Gordon Atkinson reflects on questioning the beliefs of one's tradition:
If you are part of a religion or spiritual tradition with a bible, scriptures, traditions, steps, or any sort of received wisdom, you should embrace your tradition’s teachings with humility. 
And you should be encouraged to take any two doctrines and throw them out. You get two. Any two that don’t sit well with you. And I don’t mean you should just ignore them. I mean go outside, look up or down or sideways or in whatever direction you think points toward your god and say, “Hell no. I’m not going to do that!” 
Stand on your own two feet and use a firm voice. Explain yourself. 
“I’m not going to do that because I think it’s evil. I think it’s going to hurt people. And it violates a sense of rightness I have inside of me. A rightness that I feel has been enlarged by my devotion to my faith tradition. And if you are the kind of god who demands such a thing from your followers, I don’t think very much of you.”
Hopefully that whets your appetite to read the rest. The journey of faith includes wrestling with questions and authenticity in profession. It also includes, if you have chosen a specific tradition to follow, striking the right balance between adherence and honesty. Those probably aren't the right words, but they were the ones that came to mind.

Ten. Thousand. Maybe you heard about World Vision's recent announcement regarding acceptance of employees in same-sex relationships, and their subsequent back-tracking. Matthew Paul Turner reflects on the fallout:
It took several days to count the total loss of sponsorships, a number that eventually rose to “just about 10,000 children,” according to Stearns. A handful of people did call back, hoping to start up their sponsorships again. But the majority did not. 
And that breaks my heart. 
It should break all of our hearts, regardless of whether you praised World Vision’s initial decision or panned it as “godless.” 
Even still, those three words should break us friends. Because it’s a number that represents 10,000 needy children, flesh and blood of various races and nationalities, little ones who are precious in God’s sight. 
And yet, a large number of so-called born again Christians treated their relationships with their kids like they were little more than subscriptions to HBO. Sure, some people probably stopped sponsoring their kid and began sponsoring another kid through a different organization. But that’s not any better. A child sponsorship is not a product that can be returned and exchanged for a different brand. There’s nothing “moral” about using a kid as a bargaining chip to punish a Christian organization for making a decision that you don’t agree with. There’s nothing honoring about using children to force an organization’s hand. There’s nothing “pro life” about that. There’s nothing remotely “Christlike” about that. It’s downright disgusting, manipulative, and sad. If I was a Pentecostal, I might even call it demonic.
Hey, remember that quote from Gordon Atkinson I just shared about rejecting parts of your faith tradition that may call you to hurt people? Ta-da!

Hey, you. Yeah, you who are mad about marriage equality and homosexuality; who was scandalized by World Vision's original announcement: remember God's repeated claims to care for the orphan in the OT? How about Jesus saying that causing "one of these little ones" to stumble should earn you a millstone around your neck and a trip to the bottom of the sea?

No, you're too busy Taking A Stand for the Sanctity Of Marriage. Meanwhile the kid you just dumped is starving. Think about how First World Problem the nature of your cancellation is. You have a choice, that kid doesn't. And don't give me the whole "but I started sponsoring another child through this other much more Biblically faithful organization" stuff. The original kid still ain't eating, thanks to you. But hey, enjoy your feelings of self-righteousness. You have the leisure to do that.

Misc. Carey Nieuwhof on cultural trends that church leaders may want to take note of. It's not ground-breaking, but a good reminder. Jan on clergy salaries. PeaceBang on supervising church staff. Jamie on living with someone with a different process of doing things. Rachel on leaving evangelicalism, sort of. I think I have more to say about this later.

Friday, April 04, 2014

The Quiet and the Noise

Since Saturday, I've been feeling very quiet.

To be sure, there's been plenty to do. And there will be plenty to do as April goes along. We have Holy Week coming up, after all. This is one of the busiest times of the year for pastors. Not only that, but I'll finally be returning to Eden Theological Seminary for their spring convocation and my 10-year (!!!) reunion. Then I turn right around to come home and celebrate Confirmation Sunday.

That, and I'm working ahead a little in my spiritual direction program. The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter, and I'm doing what I can to will it closer. My practicum is winding down, and I only have three more class times to go.

So there's plenty of noise.

But I've also been feeling quiet. I've been feeling quiet about this space. It's not that I don't want to write anything. I just can't think of anything that I want to say right now. I worked myself up so much about the radio show, and now that it has passed I've been content to not say anything for a couple days, and I've felt a peace about that.

I suppose that's changed since I'm now writing about not writing. It kind of works against me, doesn't it? Maybe this is just a fancy way of saying, "Sorry, but I've been spending my energy in places other than this blog lately."

Even when life around me is fixing to get more and more noisy, I've been finding a quiet in the midst of it, and I've been enjoying it. I'm not in a rush to move away from it or jump start anything. There's enough to do, that's for sure.

So I'll go be quiet for a little while longer, and then I'll be done.