Wednesday, December 26, 2007

High speed fast

Starting tomorrow I will be without high speed internet access for six straight days. I know I'll survive, but SIX DAYS?! I'm headed to the land of the ice and snow (Syracuse, NY) so I'm sure I'll enjoy myself, but really, six days? Maybe a neighbor of my sister-in-law will have an open wifi connection. How will I do without great videos like this one?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Christmas decorations


I always liked Christmas decorations. My father used to put up the big lights that would eventually burn your house down if you weren't careful. I'm not as interested in decorating as he was though.

Last year, someone who thought they knew where I lived said "Your house looks really nice." I guess they realized that I had no idea what they were talking about so they added "with the Christmas lights...". I thought for a moment. We put up a lighted wreath on the side of the house, a small tree (and I mean small, a two foot potted fake tree with a string of lights) and one other wreath. We liked it, but it certainly didn't catch your eye from the street.

I paused for a few seconds and then had the sense to ask "Where do you think we live?". That's when we worked out that the house they were talking about is this cute little Victorian house about a block away from mine, where they put out lights and decorations for almost every holiday. Seriously. Pink flowers for Valentine's Day. They're retired, so more power to them.

Last year some neighbors of ours hired someone to come in and put their lights up. It looked nice, and the thought of not having to untangle lights, and even worse, put all the lights away after the season is over was enticing.

But what really is the point? Let's skip all the "Jesus is the reason for the season" slogans. Let's just say it's ok if you want to decorate your house for Christmas and put up lots of lights. The retired couple down the block get a lot of fun out of doing their decorating. People stop by and say "that's really pretty." You might admire a neighbors yard and say "Wow, that took a lot of work." If they hire someone to do it maybe you could say "Hey, nice job finding even more ways to spend money during the holidays."

I'm beginning to sound like Andy Rooney.

I did enjoy a Christmas parade tonight and the Jackson State Community College jazz choir, Innovations, put me in the Christmas spirit this weekend. The site adventconspiracy.org has me thinking of other things that might help me be less grumpy this year. If the Grinch can grow to embrace the season, maybe I can too.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Yancey on Wesley

Christianity Today has a brief article by Philip Yancey about his travels through England while reading Wesley. It's worth a read.

One of our most difficult challenges as Christians is to order our desires—to maintain a proper balance between our investment in this world and in the next.


Article is here.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Unspoken creeds

I love the creeds of the church. Apostle's, Nicene, Korean, Masai, etc.,. They help remind us of who we are in relationship to God. They are one way we demonstrate our Christianity.

Even churches that are opposed to creeds are usually not opposed to what's contained in them. And almost all churches have creeds, even if they do not use them. Those who say "no creed but the Bible" will find themselves hard pressed to find such useful descriptions of the Trinity in scripture as they will in the creeds.

But unspoken creeds are less about God, and are only useful as a means to examine ourselves and what we've come to demonstrate as belief though it may have no scriptural basis. For example, at our church, one part of a church creed might include "We believe we should gather together at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning for one hour of worship. Anything beyond that is purely voluntary."

Certainly, we would never say such a thing, but our actions speak it.

At a church retreat several years back, we had a person along with us to help with the children during events designed for parents only. She had been around our church quite a bit, even though she was a member of a different Christian faith tradition.

During the weekend, we shared the eucharist, and she was puzzled by this. Apparently at the church she was part of, one of the unspoken creeds was "the eucharist is to be shared in a church building."

John Wesley wrote a brief statement called The Character of a Methodist in which he lays out the various scriptural principles which guide him and other Methodists.

In his summary he states:
If any man say, "Why, these are only the common fundamental principles of Christianity!" thou hast said; so I mean; this is the very truth; I know they are no other; and I would to God both thou and all men knew, that I, and all who follow my judgment, do vehemently refuse to be distinguished from other men, by any but the common principles of Christianity, -- the plain, old Christianity that I teach, renouncing and detesting all other marks of distinction.


That's of course what we'd all like to say about our church. We're just doing what it takes to follow Christ. It's the very reason that the predominant church in my town refuses to take any name besides "The Church of Christ".

But let's face it -- John Wesley was being intentionally obtuse for this argument. Surely he knew that Methodism had become associated with a different frame of worship, with "social gospel" ideas and an evangelism that went beyond the activities of the Anglican church from which it came.

Those are good parts of an unspoken creed. But as I mentioned with the 11 o'clock worship tradition, we might have some areas we need to examine in our unspoken creeds that are not as kingdom directed.

Unspoken statements such as "we'd prefer you have a first shift job so you can come to regularly scheduled activities" or "we believe you should have time to teach Sunday school if you bring your kids" or "we like wooden pews and if you're not able to get out of your wheel chair, you can listen at home on the radio" might be some of the things we're projecting that go without saying.

I'm going to spend this week thinking of some of my own unspoken creeds and confessing them. It's certainly easy for me to point them out in others, so I shouldn't have any trouble identifying them in myself. Pray for me.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hallelujah



In his book Slam, Nick Hornby mentions the singer Rufus Wainwright. I hadn't heard of Wainwright, but when I looked him up, I found that I had heard him, oddly enough, in the soundtrack to Shrek. However, the song Wainwright sings on the Shrek soundtrack is a song by Leonard Cohen. It's "Hallelujah" and has been performed by dozens of musicians (including a rather dreadful version by Bono). This song has something of religion in it. It mentions David, refers to Samson and of course the chorus is Hallelujah.

Cohen wrote a lot of verses to this song. Artists pick and choose. Some leave out the David passage, but it's beautiful poetry:

Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?

It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah.

Ok, that's enough from me. Listen to the song.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Local fun


For years I lived within 2 hrs. of the Jack Daniel's distillery and didn't take the tour. Whiskey is ok, but I just didn't see how the tour could be very interesting. Then I went, and it was great fun. Lynchburg is a nice small town and the people who give the tour like their jobs.

Now I live near Century Farms Winery, and it's a good tour too. I wasn't expecting much, honestly, but it was a pretty weekend and it was a new place to me, and it made for a great trip.

Muscadines right off the vine, beautiful roses, a HARD working family making wine on a farm that has been in use for 150 years, and a great tour of the vineyard and some good wine to sample: time well spent. The kids even learned a little something and didn't get bored.

Then we followed it up with a visit to a restaurant and shops we'd never visited. Artopia is in Jackson, in a building that was a hotel decades ago, then a boarding house, and then a planned children's museum that got scrapped when "the tornado" hit it. But someone saw fit to fix it up and there are lots of small shops in it, as well as a decent restaurant, Cafe Capone. We had chicken parmesan, some great veggies and salads and dessert for the price of a Burger King meal.

So, all within easy distance of where I live there were places that were relaxing and enjoyable. I wonder what other places I'm missing?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Red, red wine.


There doesn't seem to be much discussion about alcohol on the blogs, even the Christian ones. I have teetotaling friends and moderate drinker friends. The church I am part of encourages AA and Alanon groups to use our facilities for meetings.

When I first moved back to the rural West Tennessee area I now live in, a fellow church member invited our family over to their home. She couldn't figure out how to ask if we'd like beer or wine. She had made a similar statement to another member of the church and had been judged pretty harshly for suggesting such a thing.

Our pastor at the time did not drink until his children had gone to college. Not because he was ashamed of it, but because he wanted them to know it just wasn't that important.

I like wine. I like beer, I even like a shot of whiskey now and again. That's not very Methodist of me, in terms of what the Book of Discipline says. I suppose I should dislike it as much as I dislike the lottery that Tennessee now has.

Maybe there will come a time when I take as much pleasure in a cup of tea (I have had some really great teas before)as I do in a glass of porto. I don't think that my moderate consumption is a stumbling block to others in the faith. But I suppose we should think about it anyway.

Today, I am going to a winery. It's small, it's local, and it's owned by a relative of a friend of mine, which makes it even more fun. It's a gorgeous fall day, the sun is shining bright, and I look forward to a day of enjoying God's creation. Pour yourself a glass of wine, a cup of coffee or a glass of tea and enjoy it with me.

Peace.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Shock Doctrine



Naomi Klein just released a new book. She was hoping for a blurb from Alfonso Cuaron, director of Y Tu Mama Tambien and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Instead, she got this film.

Watch it, but not with children around. Sights and sounds are meant to be provocative.

The video has done what it was intended to do, which is to create an interest in the book, as well as start some discussion, so that's why I'm posting it.

The biggest thing I wonder about is this statement which is from the economist Milton Friedman. "Only a crisis, actual or perceived, produces real change."

I think that statement might be true, regardless of how it is then abused by the powers and principalities. The followers of Jesus certainly changed after the death and resurrection of Christ. Alcoholics speak of reaching rock bottom before they improve. People diagnosed with serious illnesses evaluate their lives.

Klein goes from the specific to the general and states that entire nations can be susceptible to the shock doctrine as well. She uses 9/11 and several natural disasters as evidence.

The nature of change is what actually interests me. I have heard it said that change of less than 20% is not really change at all; that incremental changes are just us trying to do what we can when we sense a problem but aren't really willing to do anything about it.

I'll use my church as an example. A few years back we went through several months of evaluation and statements of who we are and what we believe as an attempt to make better disciples. Nothing has really changed. We added a program here, scheduled some classes there, but essentially the same things that went on then are still going on.

Contrast that with the churches in Mississippi and Louisiana that are still involved in Katrina cleanup. They are substantially different churches than they were prior to the hurricane. One church with which we've partnered still has about 100 people a week that they house, feed and equip to work in the surrounding areas. This is a church that is not much larger than the groups they host.

So can those churches, like the group that I worship with, like me, truly change? Without a catastrophe? Without a huge split? Without a burned down sanctuary? How has your church changed?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Church signs.

A local church has my favorite church sign ever. All they post is occasional meetings and some scripture. Perfect.

Is anyone really brought to church by these signs? What is their purpose? This one almost caused me to have an aneurysm induced traffic accident this morning:

Salvation so easy a cave man can do it.


AAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

I can't even approach the number of ways in which this is wrong. If you've got some of your own disturbing church signs, put them here, or better yet, come on over to Theologeeks and add them there.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Techgnostics


New words are interesting to me. Ginormous is in the dictionary now (though blogger spellcheck doesn't like it, nor the word spellcheck). When I read a comment by Brian Volck at Ekklesia, he used the hyphenation techno-gnosticism. I searched techgnosticism and found lots of links, so now I have a new word for a subject which is getting discussed a lot lately.

It's easy to see why. This new "medium" which is created and manipulated each day leads to some very obvious disconnects between mind and body. There are plenty of stories about how much more blurred the lines between the worlds of cyberspace and meatspace are becoming.

One of the articles Brian directs us to is the story of a man who plays the online game Second Life to such a degree that it could easily be said that it has become his primary life. But he's not the only one who is blurring the lines between the real and the hyperreal. IBM employees are now planning a strike in Second Life. Lawsuits are being started over land in Second Life. And, of course, there are new church plants in SL.

If we could just say "it's one game, a fad, not a trend" then we'd probably have little to discuss, but it's not. SL is just the easiest thing to point to. Myspace, youtube, facebook, all are aspects of this new world that seems to be growing. There are some who even say there is about a 20% chance we're living in the matrix already.

I'm not saying it's all bad or that we should all unplug our computers or stop reading blogs, but we should talk about how we're affected by the cyberworld, and we should be wary of the ways in which we are separated from the temple of the Holy Spirit when we enter this other world.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Jesus-Do

I recently searched "Jesus-do" which in my mind, means the way of Jesus.

Do (think "dough") is a word that you'll see in various martial arts. Taekwondo, karate do, etc.,. It just means "the way of". Because the early church was sometimes referred to as "the way", when I think Jesus-Do, that's what I'm reminded of. Google, however, sees it much differently, and the fact that when I searched it, I didn't see it as part of the phrase "What would Jesus do?" is funny to me. Thank God for joy given in simple things.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Coffeehouse Theology

Last night three people gathered at a local church, drank some coffee and talked. It was inspiriting. I feel somewhat better than I did in my previous post re: my poor addled brain.

We were gathered to start talking about Christian theology. We spent some time discussing possible subjects and others who might like to participate. Several people couldn't be there this time, but are planning to join us next time. Next month, we'll be talking about polygamy. It should be an interesting session and I hope we'll have a few more folks to share coffee with.

Grace and Peaches.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Grace and Peaches.

One of the fun things I get to do as part of my involvement in the Ekklesia Project is read church newsletters, some sermons, and other miscellaneous items from pastors in the Project, and publish them on the EP website. I really like this one:

http://www.ekklesiaproject.org/content/view/231/67/

Monday, September 10, 2007

My brain is unsettled

So I actually have about 5 different things in draft form. I'm at a low point right now, and feeling discouraged about many things. Not that I don't have too many blessings to count, just that I'm too annoyed with too many things to take time to count them. I think the biggest thing bothering me is the pastor of the church I worship with. I think he's probably not a good pastor, and though as a United Methodist, I can hope that he's moved, that bothers me too.

I'm simply not sure that wanting him to go somewhere else is the proper response. I know that UMs are working on improving the itinerancy, and I know that if he had been directed better in the early years of his ministry, our church, and others before, would have benefited, but that doesn't help me here and now. The church hasn't trained me properly with how to deal with the loss of a good pastor or the gain of a bad one. I know that the only reason I'm still trying is because God strengthens me. The daily prayer helps.

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought
us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty
power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by
adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your
purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, August 31, 2007

The children are not our future.


I haven't read this book, but I read an online interview with the author on Globe and Mail, and it reminded me of some points I've heard made by other people.

My blog title was provided by a pastor friend who tries to help people understand that our children are here now, have a role in the church and should not be put away for later use.

He provides an example of a church that wanted to start a "youth group" and asked a professional to come and evaluate the needs of the local youth and determine what a youth group might look like for this congregation.

The professional found that in this small church, the three current youth had roles in the choir, church council and missions work. The professional urged the congregation to not worry about a youth group, but to keep doing more of what they were already providing.

I heard a "car talk" type show the other day in which the host mentioned that he had rebuilt an engine, with some help, at the age of 15. We often don't expect much of our youth, and it's time we realize that we should not wait for them to grow up before we ask them to participate.

In the Globe and Mail article I referred to, one person does raise a good point:
Why does everybody need to squeeze every last ounce of productivity out of their lives? We are moving so close to a society where you are judged purely by how much money you make and how many hours you can put in at work during a week that it seems no one is smelling the clich├ęd roses along the road to death.

Who cares if a teenager can work in an office just as well as an adult? They have plenty of time to do that when they are an adult; no need to go back to the ways of the industrial revolution.

Epstein answers :

Many young people would like the opportunity to start a business, own property, compete against adults, make their own medical decisions, live on their own, drink alcohol (responsibly) - or even to retire to a desert island!

But over the last century, society has come to restrict all young people - based simply on age, and no matter how motivated or competent they may be - so that they have virtually no meaningful options whatsoever. . .

The key is to allow young people to enter the adult world as soon as they are ready.

I'm not sure that most adults or youth know when they're ready to enter adulthood. As a 40 year old male, I am still stunned when I realize that my peers are doctors, teachers and pastors, but I think the church can learn from what Epstein and others are saying about youth in the culture at large.

Our youth can take part in the liturgy; not just as acolytes or ushers or whatever small task we think they won't mess up, but as readers, worship leaders, choir members and, should they be called, preachers. Having a once a year "youth Sunday" may be a fun way for the congregation to see the youth dress up one Sunday out of the year, but we should help our youth find their way to Christ every Sunday.

That doesn't mean that I'm calling for a strong "works" checklist that will help youth earn their way into heaven, but I do think the apprenticeship of our youth should be a focus of the church. In a fine blog post about fishing, Kevin Baker mentions how he "grew up learning to throw a net at the feet of my Uncle Roy." How many of our youth get to see that kind of work in action? Let's start with worship and see where the Spirit can take us together.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Masai Creed

This is a creed I came across through a mention in Jaroslav Pelikan's commentary on Acts. You can find a little more info at Beliefnet. There are some phrases in it that resonate.

We believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it. He created man and wanted man to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on the earth. We have known this High God in darkness, and now we know him in the light. God promised in the book of his word, the bible, that he would save the world and all the nations and tribes.

We believe that God made good his promise by sending his son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left his home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died. He lay buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, he rose from the grave. He ascended to the skies. He is the Lord.

We believe that all our sins are forgiven through him. All who have faith in him must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love and share the bread together in love, to announce the good news to others until Jesus comes again. We are waiting for him. He is alive. He lives. This we believe. Amen.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Things that go well.


I studied English in school and spent a lot of time critiquing and breaking things down to see how they worked. My nature has included too much of seeing what's wrong with things, and in combination with my critical nature, the two have not always been helpful.

So I need to take time to notice things that are going well, and one of the things that goes well at our church is the Angel Food Ministry. You can watch the youtube clip to see a little about what it is, though the video comes from the main program, not specifically the church I live in.

We started doing Angel Food more than a year ago, and I have to say that the members of the church just said "sounds like something God would have us do." and jumped on board.

This month, Saturday the 25th to be exact, we'll have about 50 households come through our church and for $28 they'll overfill a ream of paper sized box with good food. Some of these people will be using food stamps to make their purchase, some will be coming because they just want to save money, and a few will be coming because we are giving them a box to help them get through difficult times.

Now, if you dig very deep, you'll find some prosperity gospel folks attached to Angel Food, and of course, if you want me to critique that, I can. But I can't see any problem with a church participating in what is basically a great big food co-op.

I have had people cry from receiving their Angel Food boxes, though generally it's not for a box that fed them, but for a box that allowed them to feed others. I think specifically of some people who take the boxes to their elderly parents who live on a very fixed income.

Lots of churches participate in Angel Food. It's a growing thing. At our church, which has a regular attendance of about 120, we have enough volunteers each month to take orders, make labels and pass out food. Thanks be to God for helping us to help others.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Not Reading (again)

In my previous post, I mentioned the frustration of teaching Christians who don't read much. It seems to be a trend: One in four adults say they read no books at all in the past year.

These two points are interesting: People from the South read a bit more than those from other regions, mostly religious books and romance novels...those who said they never attend religious services read nearly twice as many as those who attend frequently.
The first part is funny because I live in the South and religious books and romance novels are almost exclusively what gets read in this house. Sometimes it's funny to be pegged by a statistic.

The second part is odd because of how many religious books get read each year, and yet people who are in church/synagogue/other house of worship aren't the ones reading those books?

I'm no good at analyzing surveys, but this does seem to have some interesting information.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Prayers and words

Two prayers to compare. The first, from the bulletin at church this Sunday:

You know, Lord, that we sometimes find life to be difficult. There is so much uncertainty; there are so many questions; there are so many setbacks; there is so much pressure to conform. At every turn we are tempted to compromise our morals, to fit in with our society, to question the standards of our faith. Forgive where we have yielded, and help us to build spiritual stamina in our ethically challenged world.
The second comes from the United Methodist Hymnal and is from both the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren churches:

Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, maker of all things, judge of all people: We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed, against thy divine majesty. We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us. Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father. For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee in newness of life, to the honor and glory of thy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


The first prayer may have been written by our pastor. I don't know, and it really doesn't matter who wrote it. It's crap.

I think it should be given to the church of Dr. Phil. It seems like a prayer that he would like. It's easily changed too, since we only have to replace the word Lord with Dr. Phil one time. Let's see:

You know, Dr. Phil, that we sometimes find life to be difficult. There is so much uncertainty; there are so many questions; there are so many setbacks; there is so much pressure to conform. At every turn we are tempted to compromise our morals, to fit in with our society, to question the standards of our faith. Forgive where we have yielded, and help us to build spiritual stamina in our ethically challenged world.
Yes, that definitely makes more sense.

Today in Sunday school we read the story of the first Christian Pentecost. It says something about how we should speak in the language people understand. But that does not mean we shouldn't use the language of the church.

How do we learn language? What ways seem to work best? Most schools do things backwards, studying verb conjugation and sentence structure before anyone speaks the language. That's not how you learned your native language. You learned before you knew what learning even was. You heard it, day after day after day and you tried to duplicate it even when what you were saying made little sense to anyone listening, and you understood much of it before you were able to speak it clearly. Why should the church be different?

I understand that the prayer of confession from the Methodist/United Evangelical Brethren churches could be a bit daunting to a visitor who had not been raised in the church. I feel uncomfortable when people around me are speaking a language I don't understand. But the church can do things that help people to know the language. We should teach it, but we cannot teach it if instead we just quit speaking it.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Fasting


16"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6)

I'm not fasting today. I won't be alone. I'm not sure what percentage of Christians participate in a regular fast, but I'm sure it's small. You can read a lot about fasting, but I don't hear many people talking about it much. I live amongst Christians who take scripture very seriously but would consider it odd for anyone to fast.

Why is that? How do we look at the Matthew passage above and not hear it as a call to fasting? Fasting isn't completely ignored. There are plenty of books that talk about Christian fasting, and the number of books that go into other reasons for fasting are plentiful. The picture that I used above is from a yoga site.
John Wesley fasted regularly and called Methodists to do the same. For generations, Roman Catholics have been instructed to fast, or at least abstain from certain meats, as a means of preparation for the eucharist.
Scot McKnight is working on a book about fasting. He states in his thesis:

Fasting is never the central spiritual discipline of the Christian life. Fasting is not a separable spiritual discipline like prayer or study or solitude. Instead, fasting is a physical condition in which all the disciplines can occur. Fasting is not effective in and of itself but is the expression of the kind of person – a person who has given all of herself or himself to God – that stands before God in trust and obedience, yearning for what that person wants in the face of God in the hope that God will hear that yearning.

I plan to read more of what he has to say, but I'm stuck on "effective" at this point. One good word that I heard about fasting was that we should watch out for our need to get something out of fasting. It's not for losing weight. It's not for cleansing. Maybe this is what Scot is talking about.
People who are grieving, or in shock, or even very excited sometimes fast without planning to. They don't do it as a spiritual discipline, they do it because they're just not hungry, just not able to sit down and think about what they're going to eat. It's probably one of the reasons we bring food to wakes. Those who are grieving may not want to eat, but at least they don't have to prepare anything and will have plenty of choices when they do decide they need something.
There's plenty more that can be said about fasting. I'd enjoy further discussion either in the comments section or at theologeeks. Here's another passage from scripture about fasting, this one from chapter 58 of Isaiah.
6 "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light
will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness [a]
will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will
call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
"If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend
yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you
always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Not Reading

I was recently reading a post on the Jesus Community blog which discussed the love of reading and how Paul asked for his scrolls in 2 Timothy. It's a good post about how much we love to read, and it probably rings true for many in the Christian blog world. We're readers, or we wouldn't be here.

I've mentioned the Ekklesia Project before and how one of the things the members and guests enjoy at the annual gathering is the tables of books from Wipf&Stock, Brazos and others. The fact that we're all book junkies becomes apparent when you see us circling the tables like vultures. It probably helps that there is usually a conference discount, but we may be approaching book gluttony.

But the members of my Sunday school class are not in danger of book gluttony. Most of the people in my class are not readers. I don't mean that they don't read Volf, or Hauerwas or whoever else the rest of the theologeeks are following these days. I mean that they don't subscribe to newspapers, and they don't go online to read the news. They may occasionally read some things that are work related or hobby related, but they probably aren't likely to spend much time circling bookstores or a publisher's table.

Don't get me wrong. I love the class. They are good people who are supportive and helpful and mission minded. They just don't want to have to read.

As a teacher, this can be frustrating. I've had copies of books that I intended for the class to read at home and had at least one member say "Just keep it, I won't be reading at home." So maybe I should be more demanding. Maybe I should find other materials. Maybe it's too late to form good reading habits as an adult if you've never read much before adulthood. Maybe reading just isn't that important.

But it feels important. There is much to know, much to learn, and not all of it is available on videos. Not all of it can be read to you during worship. Most of it must be studied more than one hour of one day of each week. So I think good Christians should be good readers. We should study. We should encourage one another.

Last week during Sunday school, we read a chapter of scripture out loud. I intend to do more of that and try to be clear that I think reading is expected. In the meantime, if you have suggestions, I would be very receptive.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Where'd I put my Bible?


From Christian Outdoorsman, in the styles and colors you choose.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Theologeeks-patience

I'm excited. After starting the Theologeeks forum last week, I now have 2 new posting members. I know, that sounds a little pathetic in the internet world, but it's good news to me. I also have 2 other members who haven't yet posted.

I teach an adult Sunday school class that averages about 12 people each Sunday. At the UMC church I'm part of, that's a big class. And some days, we have almost 20 people, and then we're the largest. If you figure in the number of children we bring when we're present, we're about 1/3 of the Sunday school attendance.

But this class took a LONG time to form. I've been back at this church for about 10 years. I would say the first three years were formative in terms of the class. I was not teaching right away, merely attending a class that would sometimes consist of me and the teacher. I consented to sharing teaching duties and after time, took over sole responsibility.

I have had Sundays during which I am the only person there. I would prepare a lesson, imagine questions that might arise, and find that I had an extra week to prepare some more.

But people came, people welcomed one another, and people worked together. This is the class that I came to with information about a food program. Not enough information, but enough that they said "Sure, let's try it." Now we serve over 50 people a month.

I don't know what God's time looks like, with the whole "a thousand years are like a day" but I know that we are impatient. I know that if all it takes is 40 days to make a purpose driven life, then that purpose may not be all that great. We are slow forming things, and it takes time and God's patience to shape us.

So I'm encouraged by the Theologeeks forum. It got a mention at the Methoblog which resulted in Theologeeks finally being Googleable. The only previous result was a dead page, but now all other results eventually lead to the forums.

I hope other bloggers and internet readers will come and discuss things, and if they don't come to Theologeeks, I hope they tell me where they are discussing these things. The blog world seems to often be about lots of people talking to one another, with very little potential for dialog. I'd like more opportunities for us to share with each other.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

I win!

So, if you have a copy of the King James, please give it back. I own the entire version. I will allow no duplications.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Rev. Randy Cooper, episcopal candidate

I thought I might post about the role of Bishops, what needs to change, how the role seems to vary from conference to conference, and that sort of thing, but there's plenty of that out there, and I really just wanted to talk about one person anyway.

In June, at the Memphis Annual Conference gathering, Rev. Cooper, or "brother Randy" as he would probably prefer to be called,"was unanimously declared the delegation's episcopal candidate and was heartily and unanimously endorsed later by annual conference delegates." (That's from a Reporter summary of the conference which I'd link, but that's all it says about the nomination.)

Randy has been serving the Memphis Conference for about 25 years, and I'm no expert about his ministry, but he has not served a megachurch or even a large 500+ members congregation. He has committed to serving churches which are, at least in this area, normally given pastors who are right out of school or getting ready to retire.

No pastor can fill a pulpit without making someone upset, so I won't say everyone thinks he's great, but I have no doubt that everyone who has known him would agree that he takes both Word and Table very seriously.

I don't know if good pastors make good Bishops, but if they do, brother Randy will make an outstanding Bishop. His service to the body of Christ has been profound, and I hope God will continue to bless his ministry regardless of what particular path it may take.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

It's not your Bible.

"Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked.
"How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?"


When I was watching the movie Luther a few months back, I was jarred by one scene in particular:

-Have you ever read the New Testament, Martin?
-No, Father.
-Not many have, but in Wittenberg you will.
-Wittenberg?
-A doctorate in theology.
-You're sending me away to study?
-I'm sending you to the source...the Scriptures.
Christ Himself.

What caught my attention is the fact that a priest would not have READ the New Testament. Since people started keeping up with such things, about 6 billion Bibles have been sold. That's more than half of the current world population, so even trying to imagine a time when a priest would not have actually read the New Testament is nearly impossible.

We have many different versions, translations, and perversions of the Bible to choose from. If you haven't read the New Testament by now, it's because you haven't chosen to, not because you haven't had the opportunity.

But the church in Martin Luther's day wasn't interested in having everyone read the New Testament, or the Original Testament either. They could listen to it, be taught from it, and even carry the church's copy in to worship, but it wasn't something to be handed around and put into more popular formats.

Maybe the church was too protective, and Luther (as well as others such as the Waldensians) did the church a great service by helping put the Bible in our hands. The church, however has not been careful enough to instruct us in reading the Bible.

Now you can pick up a study edition, a for teens edition, even a YOU edition and jump right in. The iBible video on Youtube is a parody, but it's not as effective considering how close it is to the reality of what's available.

The idea that the Bible belongs to you because you purchased it in a store is dangerous. I heard a teen testify to literally turning through the Bible and opening it to a random page when needing advice on a decision. She admitted that she was confused by the passage she flipped to. Of course she was. No one had taught her to read scripture. No one had informed her that she didn't own the word of God, that if used improperly, the Bible could end up being just another book, or worse, a means for our own self-gratification.
So how do we learn to read scripture? I teach an adult Sunday school class, and we've spent time talking about it, and I do think small group studies are necessary, but worship is the best place to learn. Scripture is the language of worship. We listen together. We pray that the words will do their work, that the pastor will speak truth, that the Spirit will move us. We sing scripture, we pray scripture, we are enculturated by it. Thanks be to God that we can receive such a gift.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Theologeeks

I'm not sure whether I came up with the term theologeeks, or my wife called me one first, but we're not the only ones to use the phrase, as I found out when I tried to register the domain theologeeks.com.

I'm using it for a group of people who will be meeting (at least) once a month to discuss the church and the Triune God. I did find that it shows up in only one place on Google, and that's at the dead site mentioned above. I wonder if they'd sell it?

There are actually lots of theologeeks out there, people who can't wait for the newest N.T. Wright book, or have a signed copy of Hauerwas and Willimon's Resident Aliens sitting prominently on their bookshelf.

The Ekklesia Project that I'm part of is full of theologeeks. Every year at the gathering, there are tables full of books from several publishers. I'd say it's one of everyone's top ten favorite things about the gathering.

The favorite thing, hands down, is conversation. Just sitting around between sessions, after worship, in the halls, in the dorms, on the way to the grocery store and talking about what we do at our churches, signs of the Kingdom, signs of the spirit is really why most of us come back each year; to see old friends and to make new ones.

So, the Jackson Theologeeks group is to build on that; to give those of us who spend a lot of time thinking about church more time to talk to one another. It's good church work. We shouldn't be left alone to our thoughts all the time, and most of us don't have anyone in our local congregation with whom we can discuss such things. We read and post things on the internet, but human contact is much more important. Let's try it and see.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

America's Next Top Pastor

I haven't watched any of the other vids from RockTV, but this one is pretty good satire. I wonder if our Bishop has seen it?

America's Next Top Pastor

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Jesus Camp




During the summer, our church has been offering movies on Wednesday night (yes we have a license to do so). This week, the movie was Jesus Camp.

I couldn't attend with the others in the church, but it still reminded me that I had wanted to watch this when it first became available on video. So I watched it last night.

Now I wish I had been there when other members of my congregation had attended. I would have liked to have heard some of the discussion.

There is no doubt that in some ways we should be horrified. My wife walked through during a scene in which a young Pentecostal girl was explaining how churches that are still and quiet are dead churches, and it infuriated her. And rightly so. This child had been told that there was only one way in which to worship.

But there is much to commend in how the people in this movie think. They really care about what their children are doing, how they are raised, what will influence them. The children speak Biblical, if not always graceful, language.

We are afraid to form anyone's mind. We want everyone to figure things out for themselves. This is not the Way of Christ. We pray that He will form us, and will guide us in forming others. It doesn't always have to be done with a hammer, as it is by many in this film, but we are being formed by something, and if it's not Christ, we should beware.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

rote memorization

I take great joy in knowing that my children know the Lord's Prayer as well as the Apostle's Creed. I sat with my daughter, who is 12, at church this Sunday and it was nice to hear her voice repeating the prayer that has guided the church for two thousand years.

A long time ago, I learned the Lord's Prayer in Old English as part of some course work. It drove home to me the fact that this prayer is older than one of the dominant world languages, and it will survive longer than this language.

Prayers that we learn, memorize and have infused into us are valuable. There was a time when the Bible, Wordsworth and Shakespeare were the most quoted sources in Western culture. Now it's far more likely to be a pop star, a beer commercial or an action movie.

I'm lazy. I don't take time to pray, I don't devote myself fully like I should. Maybe it's because of my laziness that I see the value in such things. This morning I went to the Divine Hours site and as is usually the case, the morning prayer was this:

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me in safety to this new day: Preserve me with your mighty power, that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all I do direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.

I love this prayer. It's a regular in the Divine Hours, and I have prayed it with friends who are near and far. I've prayed it in church and in Sunday School. I don't have it memorized. I don't intend to work at memorizing it. I hope it will be infused in me through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Peace.

Monday, July 09, 2007

reviewing blogs

Sometimes I get started on lists of blogs and before you know it I can't even remember where I started. This weekend I came across two lists that were useful. They're from way back in March, which makes them ancient in internet terms, but very useful.

10 Ways to Draw Me to your Church

1o Ways to Keep Me from Discovering your Church



The other thing I did this weekend is finalized my plans to go to the Ekklesia Project gathering in Chicago. This will be my third year and I think I look forward to each gathering more than the next. The gathering this year will look at the work of the congregational formation initiative, which seems to be going well. I look forward to hearing more about how we can help our congregations live life fully in the Kingdom of God.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Divine Hours

Phyllis Tickle has done good work in helping people observe fixed hour prayer. She has a website set up that allows you to follow along, but I highly recommend the books.

Divine Hours

Try it and see what you think.

Analyzing