Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Song of the Week

Pray for the Dead
(and Fight Like Hell for the Living)

By David Rovics (2000)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Advent Devotions Online

Reflecting on the Christian season of Advent

As churches and individual Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth, Goshen College is again offering an online spiritual resource to help believers make time and space in their hearts and minds to welcome Advent and celebrate Christmas.

Beginning Nov. 27 and culminating Dec. 29, Goshen College students, faculty and staff will provide weekday reflections based on the Sunday’s upcoming lectionary Scripture passages, available online or by daily e-mail. Organizers said the devotions are contemporary reflections on the Scriptures, offering assurances of faith during a time of uncertainty and fear across the nation and the world. Many writers will reflect on the Advent theme: “Love’s revelations.”

Organizers intend the devotions to provide a moment of pause and peace, sharing the thoughts of individual believers to enhance the personal reflections of readers. The short reflections could be used as a centering tool at the start of a day or a way to wind down in the evening. Either way, the writings and Scripture passages can help Christians concentrate specifically on the meaning and mystery of the Advent season.

These daily Advent devotions come recommended. (Thanks, Kathy!)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Peacemakers Seminar in March

March 2-3, 2007 in Olympia, WA
"Scripture is clear that Christians are to be known by their love (John 13:35) and peace (Romans 12:18). Sadly, however, most of us do not know how to respond to conflict biblically. When should we overlook? What does it mean to make a thorough confession? What should our relationships look like after we forgive? The Peacemaker Seminar is a five-hour training that applies systematically biblical principles to real-life situations to equip you to respond to conflicts in gracious, wise, and God-glorifying ways." (source)

My take: I am interested in the Peacemaker program because it is aiming to apply Biblical lessons in the context of peace. There are plenty of people applying the Bible to support war and violence, but that's not what I see as the over-arching message of the Bible. I haven't been to any training of the Peacemaker Ministries yet, so I can't assess their message beyond what's available on their website. Apart from what seems like a nod toward "traditional" (stereotyped) gender roles in marriage and a belief in Biblical inerrancy, I'm more interested than turned off. (Those are two big turn-offs, don't misunderstand me, but I'm nevertheless interested in what they have to say about peacemaking.) So I thought I'd post their upcoming training in March and see if anyone wants to go (with me?) and report back.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Holiday "Culture War" Not Really

"It's a season when my practices as a believer get balanced with preferences of non-religious family members and friends -- and those from different traditions -- for whom the holidays hold deep meaning as well.

"As we try to respect one another's beliefs, noisy people keep intruding. They proclaim a "war on Christmas," force retailers to put "Merry Christmas" in advertising and then proclaim that they've rescued the manger."

My Take: There was a good column in Friday's Seattle Post-Intelligencer on the annual "War on Christmas" or whatever you want to call it. It's when right-wingers come out of the woodwork to whoop up right-leaning Christians and Christians-who-don't-know-any-better into a frenzy of misplaced fear and anxiety over secularization or even *gasp!* religious diversity around the holiday season. The column does a good job of putting things into a humorous perspective, tracing the roots of this culture war not in expanding tolerance but in political ideology.

'Culture war' in season of the Prince of Peace?, by Joel Connely.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Heretic Reverend?

This American Life: Heretics

The story of Reverend Carlton Pearson (pictured), an evangelical pastor in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His church, Higher Dimensions, was once one of the biggest in the city, drawing crowds of 5,000 people every Sunday. But several years ago, scandal engulfed the Reverend, he was denounced by almost all his former supporters, and today his congregation is just a few hundred people. He didn't have an affair. He didn't embezzle lots of money. His sin was something that to a lot of people is far worse ... he stopped believing in hell.

This American Life is a weekly nationally syndicated radio show on NPR. A podcast/mp3 download can be done for free this week (it was last week's show) here: It's really worth listening to!


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week

The Church Council of Seattle is sponsoring Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.

“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Matt 25:40

This Sunday's theme of "Consecrate Your Blessings" is a perfect opportunity to talk about hunger and homelessness in our world, and how we as individual Christians and as a church can help end these.

What can congregations do?

Congregations are providing critical assistance in ending the problem of homelessness. Here are some examples of what's being done by the many congregations that are faithfully, creatively, and passionately reaching out:
* Providing overnight shelter - congregations work with SHARE, AHA, and other groups to provide hundreds of overnight beds inside their facilities and in tent cities on their property;
* Transitional Housing - Churches work with the Church Council and other providers to bring formerly homeless individuals and families into church-owned properties to help solve homelessness;
* Holding workshops and education forums - congregations educate their constituents by holding workshops that focus on homelessness;
* Endorsing the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness in King County. Fifty-six congregations have signed on so far!
* Providng resource and referral information to people in need - congregations are often the frontline in meeting needs of the homeless and hungry;
* Creating bricks-and-mortar housing facilities - several congregations have built or purchased housing and operate it for the homeless, for low-income seniors, and others;
* Pray for an end to homelessness - and the power of prayer is real!

Check out more at
Or the King County Coalition for the Homeless information page, here.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Song of the Week

Rise Like Lions
By Brenna Sahatjian

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Quote of the Week

From an interview with Kurt Vonnegut

Q. There is another Hoosier you write about who is unknown, Powers Hapgood of Indianapolis. Who was he?

Vonnegut: Powers Hapgood was a rich kid. His family owned a successful canner in Indianapolis. Powers was radicalized. After he graduated from Harvard, he went back to work in a coal mine to find out what that was like. He became a labor organizer. He led the pickets against the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti. I got to know him late in his life when he’d become a local CIO official. There was some sort of dustup on a picket line, enough to bring the cops into play. Hapgood was testifying in court what was to be done about CIO member who made trouble. The judge stopped the proceedings at one point an said, "Hapgood, why would a man with your advantages, from a wealthy, respected family, Harvard graduate, lead such a life?" Powers Hapgood replied, "Why, the Sermon on the Mount, sir." Not bad, huh?
Incidentally, I am honorary president of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the great science fiction writer and biochemist Dr. Isaac Asimov. John Updike, who is religious, says I talk more about God than any seminarian. Socialism is, in fact a form of Christianity, people wishing to imitate Christ.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Death and Community

First of all, a most sincere and profound thank you to all of you who have been supporting me and my family after the death of my father-in-law. The cards, phone calls, prayers, food, hugs, attendance at prayer services and the memorial service last Sunday, have all been so good for the family - for my wife, her sister, and their mother. This has been a very difficult time for them, but the overwhelming support they have felt from so many people has helped them. Thank you.

I, myself, haven't yet really begun to mourn John's passing. Soon after we received the news, I decided to fly to Mexico to join Susan there and help bring her back. We didn't want her travelling alone, and we thought it would be good to have someone there to handle the mundane details so that she could focus on grieving. (If I were to be completely honest, I also felt like seeing the place might make this unbelievable news more real to me. It didn't, but I'm glad I went for Susan.) Then, when we got back, I was needed to be a support for my wife. So, even now, I haven't really given time to mourning the loss of John. I imagined myself putting this aside for a time, in order to better serve my family. But at the memorial service I began to feel all of that tremendous well of loss, sadness and emotion, and I could hardly keep myself from tearing through the entire service.

I managed to say a few words from the pulpit without completely breaking up, though barely. But aside from that time, when composure was necessary for performance, I just sat and quietly cried nearly the entire evening. Singing those hymns was impossible - they were some of John's favorites, of course, but they were also communal confessions of faith and hope, and as such were so unusually filled with meaning just then that they caused more choking down of sobs than melody. I just couldn't sing them. I wanted to sing them, I just couldn't get the words to form through my grief.

Then, the more than 600 people gathered behind me in the pews and balcony filled the sanctuary with song. Even if I couldn't sing for myself, I felt like my community was there picking up my portion of the song and singing for me in my stead.

Perhaps it's silly - thinking that singing a hymn could be a ministry, or that everyone was singing it in some small part to help me out. But it seemed to me at the time (and still does) a good representation of community: sorrows are divided, joys are multiplied, burdens are shared, and in my moment of weakness and grief not only my load but even my own self is carried on by others.

I imagine that this applies to John as well. I don't think there's some consciousness of John out there that experiences it, but I do think in some meaningful way John is still with us - lifted up, his load and his personhood taken up by the body and continuing the journey.

Thank you for singing over my crying, for singing the song I wanted to be sung but couldn't sing myself, for carrying my load for me for a time. It is a terrible loss in John's death, but there is some measure of real testimony to his life and joy in the fact of so many people being willing - eager, even - to lift him up, take on his load, and continue on the journey. And that, though it makes me cry now, will be joy to me soon.

Thank you.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Pastoral Ethics - Evangelical vs mine

The leader of the Seattle-area evangelical mega-church "Mars Hill", Mark Driscoll (left), recently commented on his blog on the recent gay-sex-and-drugs-scandal involving Evangelical leader Ted Haggard (right). In Driscoll's comments, he lays out a bulletted list of some ground rules to help pastors and ministers keep from falling into this kind of sin, including:
- Having free sexual access to a wife who keeps herself beautiful (who doesn't "let herself go")
- Working from home instead of being at church and accessible to "the wrong people,"
- Employing only male heterosexual assistants (assuming that all ministers are heterosexual males, too, I suppose)
- Having assistants screen all emails and messages before they reach the minister, and ministers not travelling alone
(There are some other strategies raised, too, with which I have fewer problems, but these piqued my interest and ire.)

By way of constructive critique, I offer these counter-possibilities:

* Instead of laying the burden on wives (or spouses of any gender) of looking good and being perpetually sexually available to their partners...
- Preach a gospel of liberation from culturally-endorsed/formed notions of "beauty" and "duty", and encourage mutual development of spouses, mutual responsibility to be attentive and caring, sensitive and aware of ones own and ones partner's needs. There are many things the gospel is firm on, but the exact form that mutually-fulfilling/enriching relations must take is not one of them. The gospel doesn't promote cookie-cutter roles and relationships - and neither should we.

* Instead of setting up fabricated types of relations as the basis for "safe" conduct or leading to "appropriate" behavior (such as heterosexual male travelling with or assisting a heterosexual male, or having many children and "beautiful wives" as qualifiers for ministry)...
- Stop preaching a sexually-repressive gospel that forces sexual energy and tension to manifest and be expressed in inappropriate ways; preach a gospel of redemption for the whole person, basing a healthy sexuality (as with all things) in healthy relationships with self, Spirit and Other. Assuming people can be pidgeon-holed and have those labels meaningfully stick and define a person is not a gospel-based idea. Jesus was the boundary-breaker, the looser of bonds, and the yoker to something more profound than the world's popular and easy definition of "correct."

* Instead of avoiding the wrong kind of people...
- Embrace them. Set clear boundaries for professional and ministerial relationships, surely, and avoid situations that could lead to confusion or misinterpretation by others, but be an edifying force for those in need. Those needs may require professional help, and a minister should be self-aware to know when a problem is beyond their ability to handle. But a minister shouldn't sit in an ivory tower away from the real hurts and desires of people. Confronting parishoners' inappropriate projections or desires can be edifying in the faith, too, and we shouldn't shirk from that responsibility. Jesus sent himself to the least desireable people in his community, those most in need, those with whom association was seen as defiling and risky. As Jesus' disciples, we are called to no less.

* If you think too many people are emailing or calling you, or dropping by your house, instead of siphoning or avoiding people through "screening" contacts...
- Get smaller churches. Perhaps 5,000 parishoners is too many for one pastor. (Like "friends" on MySpace... at some point the word loses its meaning, and genuine relationship is lost.) Jesus drew big crowds, then eschewed them, preferring ministry among smaller groups. People naturally flock to sources of solace, strength and transformation; Jesus was well aware of the danger of big crowds, and sought out individuals and families and homes to do the real work of the gospel.

Most of all, though, I'd say engage people in progressive causes that liberate them and the lowest in our midst. Be at the forefront of those organizations that recognize the worth of persons, and the possibility of transformation into new being... including the possibility that we too may be transformed.

Cookie-cutter marriages or relationships or job positions is not a gospel-oriented way of "fixing" the temptation problem. Making restrictive roles more restrictive is not a gospel strategy. The strategies I suggest above aren't clear and simple, aren't clean-cut and identical across-the-board. But as far as I can tell, Jesus didn't lay down a lot of specific rules; when asked what was most important, he told us to love God and to love each other. I say, let's let that be our strategy.

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Voting God's Politics

Sojourners Magaizine's Jim Wallis posted a response to right-wing "endorsement" of candidates and issues. In it he also puts forth his own "issues list" to judge candidates by (instead of the flashpoint sound-bite issues of the right-wing). (There's also available a voter's guide, not candidate by candidate, but issue by issue from a faithful perspective.) In short, Wallis lists: Compassion and Economic Justice, Peace and Restraint of Violence, Consistent Ethic of Life, Racial Justice, Human Rights, Dignity and Gender Justice, Strengthen Families and Renew Culture, and Good Stewardship of God's Creation. Not a bad list.