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

Analyzing