Saturday, March 31, 2007

World Conference (aka Long-suffering)

This has been a whirlwind event. I've been more involved with the running of the Conference this year, and so it seemed even more packed than usual - plus staying with Susan (one of the "higher-ups" in the church) and knowing more people from having attended Seminary for two years now and constantly stopping to talk to people and make and nurture connections all over the world... Conference has been a mile-a-minute event. All this as preface to an apology for not having posted this week. (I figured, if you were interested in following the Conference events, you'd have been doing it anyway.)

Of course, the biggest thing to happen was the adoption of President Veazey's "Words of Council to the Church" as inspired and authorizing inclusion in the canon of church doctrine (see above). But a more subtle aspect of Conference was an increased emphasis on discernment, both in the explicit exercise of small groups gathering for spiritual searching and sharing on the direction for the church, and in the increased opportunities for discussion of topics at Conference. In the past, "discussion" of issues has taken place on the Conference floor - in front of thousands of people and under Robert's Rules of Parliamentary Procedure. (Which is to say, it wasn't "discussion" at all, but often political jockeying.) This year, we have been facilitating discussions on topics ranging from homosexuality to drinking and cohabitation-before-marriage in different cultures to war and peace to increasing participation of non-North American members in the life and leadership of the church. In the discussion sessions I attended (both as a facilitator and a participant), I saw several different perspectives honorably expressed and received, and I learned a great deal.

A key moment for me was in a discussion group on the issue of homosexuality. Some were representatives of other countries and cultures where, for example, in Europe homosexuality is less of an issue than in the US, and in Africa where the idea is so unacceptable that it doesn't even merit discussion in the African church. And, of course, there were plenty of North Americans who represented the familiar spectrum of viewpoints. There were also members of the church committee tasked with exploring the issue in depth and reporting to the church their findings.

At one point, a brother from Africa rose to say that for him the issue isn't one of sexuality but of interpretation of scripture. He went on to ask (rhetorically) when does a scripture "expire," when can we no longer obey it or when can we replace it with a newer and better scripture. That was a point, in my opinion, well made. Of course, we do that all the time - ignore some scriptures and lift up others, according to our understandings and sentiments at the time, and even how we read the scriptures we do lift up is affected by the lenses and understandings we bring to the text (we read into the scriptures as much as they tell us of their own accord).

Throughout the session, but particularly toward the end, the committee members explained something that seemed to me to be key. Other Christian churches have dealt with the issue by either wholesale exclusion or wholesale acceptance - and both positions have cost those communities members and integrity. The committee was searching for a third way, a way of bringing together different positions in communion, a strategy that has not been explicitly adopted or attempted by any other Christian church (to our knowledge).

All of a sudden, it dawned on me that this was precisely the Christ-like thing to do! I had always approached the issue as one of seeking justice and fairness for my other-sexual brothers and sisters, considering conservatives as retrogrades and oppressors. But in this discussion I heard of the genuine struggle they were having, and realized that they were confronting some very powerful voices inside themselves, and that to force such a conclusion on them without serious and long-term work would be unkind and un-Christ-like. If I am to honor my "enemies" in this case, I have to allow them to hold their views as long as they genuinely believe those views to be mandated by God. This comes at the expense, of course, of some of my brothers and sisters receiving justice, and that hurts, too.

To be exclusionary is un-Christ-like, certainly, and our church's continued policies in that manner remain an open wound on our corporate body. But to be "open and affirming" (as much as I would like our church to be, and as much as I believe that to be the right thing to do) would be just as cruel to many of our members as I believe our current practice is to others. I cannot reconcile myself to liberate some of my brothers and sisters by foisting the chains of exclusion and struggle on others. Our task is to, as a church, open a healthy and respectful space wherein people of profoundly different perspectives can share together, can journey together. I am convinced that for most people it is only through genuine, mutual and respectful relationships that profound change will come. And that requires patience. (And an old synonym for patience is long-suffering.)

I came out of that discussion session genuinely changed. In the perspective of my "side", it is a bad change - I am no longer so ardently in support of "winning" regardless of cost. But I have to hold myself accountable to the gospel, and confront the possibility of changing to what I didn't think possible, ending up somewhere I earlier thought to be bad, changing priorities, discerning what is most important and open to the possibility that what I thought was most important might not be the case.

I'll take away a lot of things from this Conference, but this will be among the most important. Not expecting to, I experienced metanoia, "repentance," a change of thinking/knowing/heart.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Hard Work of Stopping (a) War

Monday was the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, and witnessed another series of protests around the world. In Seattle, despite rain and chill, 3,000 people marched through downtown in two separate columns uniting in front of the Federal Building. I was one of the people who led (physically) the march, carrying the signature banner: Ending the War Begins at Home. (photo above)

It is a strange thing, being at the front of a protest march. I was privy to a lot of the smaller conflicts that get lost in all the noise and confusion, like stopping the march to force the police to let a truck through the line that would be used at the end of the march, or attempting to force the police to let the crowd occupy the street in front of the Federal Building.

But there was another, more subtle strangeness. As always, I yelled and chanted, and brought along an annoyingly piercing whistle to penetrate the office windows downtown. But at the front, I was yelling into emptiness. As the chant "this is what democracy looks like" came up, it seemed too strange to me: this is democracy, masses of people crying into emptiness with no real hope of being answered. Not democracy in theory, but "democracy" as we have it. Policy-makers, profiteers and pundits take us to war, massive unrest be damned. This is what democracy looks like. To be honest, I am growing less and less enchanted with democracy.

Some will jump on that last sentence as a support for despotism or the like... but don't misunderstand me. If what "America" is is "democracy," then clearly it isn't working even for most of the people. And, at any rate, my allegiances aren't to the majority or minority, aren't to the preservation of the nation or its overthrow, aren't subject to or described at all by the flag. I am a Christian. My allegiance is to Christ above all else. (And just so you don't get the impression that I'm a fanatic wanting to impose his god on others, Christ demands much more from me than I have any right to demand from anyone else.) Whatever the form of government, I am not of it. Being a Christian sets me against powers that seek to dominate and control, especially powers that rule and profit by horrific violence. Even if a "majority" of people "voted" for this war (which, one should note, has never happened, and all records have been quite to the opposite), my commitment to Christ commits me to resistance and to nonviolence.

Marching at the head of 3,000 people--so diverse and so unified--I saw what democracy looks like. And as far as "democracy" goes, part of me thinks it's a sham.

I was heartened by the sincerity of people, though, the diversity and insight, the commitment and camaraderie. There was tremendous energy there, both concentrated and diffuse. The fact that so many people care enough to march is incredible testimony to the Spirit at work in the world. (And even among those who would object to being "baptized" by me in this way, I think we could agree that there is a Spirit that is working with us all.)

The banner I carried spoke the truth. Ending the war beings at home. We are a nation, culture and economy founded on the manufacture and execution of extraordinary violence. Violence is what the loudest voices in our culture lift up as inevitable, praiseworthy, honorable, successful. This has got to change. We have to recognize the truth about violence (which stares us in the face with every act of violence, especially this war): violence doesn't work. One has to do logical somersaults to come to the conclusion that violence is a successful strategy - but our culture does it so automatically that we hardly realize it. We must take a hard, studied, earnest look at both violence and nonviolence, assess what our values are and stick to those. Instead of denying freedom to protect freedom, killing people to protect people, destroying cities to preserve them, producing enemies by trying to exterminate them, trying to out-terrorize people we claim are terrorists, we should listen to our nobler selves and our honest conclusions. Nonviolence isn't without risk, certainly, or cost. (Neither is violence, remember.) But if we honestly look at real experience and a unfiltered history, we will see that violence does not "win." Especially, especially when fighting something like "terrorism."

Ending war at all begins at home. We Americans have some real work to do inside ourselves. We Christians have some real work to do inside ourselves. In a very real sense, I wasn't marching for our political leaders (who don't listen anyway). I was marching for all the people who might hear my voice--we need to change, people! We need to change the way we live our lives, the way we conceive our world, we need to evaluate our priorities and make our actions align with our claims. Stopping the war starts with stopping the war machine(s) inside ourselves.

I marched for the Spirit. You go, Spirit. Keep on working.

I marched, chanted and cheered (and occasionally protested) sometimes as loudly as I could. I had a grand time - so grand, in fact, that when the cameras were rolling I had to remember to stop smiling and look as mad as this war makes me (not as happy as the protest was making me).

Thank God for those 3,000 people in Seattle. It was inspiring to walk with you.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Which Brother Are You?

A Methodist lay minister blogs some good reflections on this past-Sunday's text of "the Prodigal Son." Some good thoughts on the text and on our present culture.
Unfortunately this transformation of society, from one where we cared about others to one of self-centeredness, has transformed the church. It dominates and shapes the character of religion today. No longer do we ask how we can serve Jesus but rather we demand that Jesus serve us. The public image of Christianity today is one where people are told that Jesus will make them happier, more self-satisfied, better adjusted, and more prosperous. Religion is presented as a way of uncovering our human potential, our potential for personal, social, and business success. No longer are we brought into Jesus’ life but rather we bring Jesus into our lives.

Read the whole post here:


Sunday, March 18, 2007

sermonic pains

I had the hardest time writing my sermon for church today. It was agonizing.

One might think that after nearly four years of graduate theological education I would be at ease with writing a sermon, that I would be able to easily come up with something both touching and enlightening without much trouble at all, and one might think that as I learn more, the process of writing a sermon would get easier and easier. On the contrary, the exact opposite seems to have happened to me. In the past year, it has seemed like each sermon is harder to write than the last, each one reaches deeper into my soul for its material, each one takes on more of a life of its own, demanding commitments from me that I’m not necessarily able to make, demanding thinking and writing that will expose me and turn myself inside-out. And it’s in no way ethical of me to stand up behind the pulpit and present all the little inside bits and tough spots in my own life, so I must carefully sort out what to say. And that’s not even to mention the level of expectation on the side of the congregation!

Be they reasonable or not, I have conjured up lavish notions of the high expectations the people sitting in the congregation must have of me. It is both delightful and torturous to deliver a sermon in the congregation one has grown up in. What could I possibly have to say to the wise and weathered folks that have hugely contributed to the person I am today?

The scripture this morning was the parable of the Prodigal Son - although I'd probably say Prodigal Sons now, since I spent a great deal of time talking about the older son, the bitter one who stayed behind and didn't want to join in his brother's welcome-home feast.

I am astonished by how much I revealed about myself this morning without actually revealing the gory details, and I am equally astonished by the fact that people actually enjoyed the torturous and tenuous route I led them along today. I provided a framework of grace, and then poked and provoked and prodded everyone, leading them through how they may and may not be like each of the characters in the story. It was a journey that people seemed to enjoy, even though they did say they felt challenged and prodded.

I think that the pain I went through to put that sermon into the world is perhaps the most honest way to do it. Maybe it doesn't have to be that painful, but shouldn't the gospel, especially the kingdom parables, really hit us in uncomfortable and challenging ways?

And again he said, ‘To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

If the kingdom is like yeast, maybe God is the woman and I am the dough, being kneaded and worked until I can rise.

ps - I'm going to be blogging on my own as well now at I will keep posting here once a week, but will post during the rest of the week at 'erosophy'. If you want to know what on earth 'erosophy' is, take a look...


Saturday (Just Life)

Saturday, 5:45AM- alarm goes off to get up and prepare for an all-day conference for which I am the featured speaker
6:00- cat weakly meows and joins Christie in bed
6:15- cat throws up (on the floor -phew!)
6:17- discover cat puke all over livingroom
6:18- discover cat poo all over livingroom
6:17-6:20- clean-up and assessment (conclusion: cat is sick)
6:20-6:50- cat continues to throw up occasionally
7:00- I leave for the conference, Christie stays to care for the cat and will come to the conference later (I have to be there early to set up)
7:30- while the cat convalesces on Christie's lap, Christie's leg falls asleep
7:35- Christie stands to do something, leg still asleep, leg collapses, three "pops"
7:45- Christie calls me to say (1) the cat continues to be sick and (2) she thinks she broke her foot.
8:00- I'm setting up St. Patrick's Day decorations at the conference
8:30- Christie calls our nearby friend Mari to drive her to urgent care and the cat to the vet; I'm enjoying the continental breakfast buffet at the conference
9:30- Christie, Mari and cat leave; vet worried because onset of sickness was so sudden; my second trip to breakfast buffet, third cup of coffee
10:00- First clinic doesn't have x-ray equipment to look at Christie
10:30- Second clinic doesn't have x-ray technician to look at Christie
11:00- Third clinic has machine and technician
12:00- Christie sees doctor; I enjoy a delightful catered lunch
12:30- vet calls and tells us that cat might have kidney or liver failure, tests expensive
1:00- Christie is told her injury is "just" a major sprain (four weeks in a boot, vicodin prescription, and physical therapy)... oh, and apparently sprains take longer to heal and hurt more than broken bones in feet; I begin my presentation
2:00- Christie is at home on the couch and in pain; I finish my presentation to smiles and applause
2:30- I leave the conference early for the vet's
3:30- long talk with the vet about possibilities and options... find out that our cat isn't dying today
4:00- rescue weak and fearful cat from vet's office, pay bill, head home
4:30- cat creeps out of kitty-carrier to lap at water--we cry with joy
5:00-9:00- I wait on waylaid wife and beleaguered cat hand and foot
9:00PM-4:00AM- yield bed space to fickle cat who can't get comfortable, and making sure neither Christie nor I roll over on the cat in the night
5:00-9:00- sleep
9:00-present- continue waiting on cat and wife, glad to have them both at home


Friday, March 16, 2007

Pruning and Care

The sun is shining for the first time this week, it seems. Just in time to highlight all the plum blossoms on the sapling we planted last fall, and warm the seedbeds we're planting now. I've also been pruning the apple tree again. Part of me hates to do it--not the hard work or tending to living things, but the idea of cutting away living branches just doesn't seem right to me.

Of course, I've seen what the tree looks like after not being properly pruned for several years, and absolutely feral apple trees in an abandoned orchard on Vashon Island, and they are sights to behold... and hardly an apple to them. As it is, our apple tree only bears fruit every-other year, possibly a symptom of insufficient trimming. So last year I took off some branches and snipped a lot of suckers (the little shoots off branches that will "suck" energy out of the tree without producing fruit), and this year I've tried to reach a lot of branches I couldn't get at last year. I haven't taken all that much biomass off the tree, but still... I feel like I'm betraying the tree somehow.

It just doesn't seem right. Still, I'll have to wait to see if it works, and if the tree bears more fruit more regularly. But part of me also just would rather it grow feral and happy--even if that means less fruit for me, the tree would be free. But, I must remember, just letting it go wouldn't be best for the tree, wouldn't be healthiest for the tree, and it could soon start choking itself and in a few years lead to sickness and stagnation. (But wouldn't it be better to be sickly and natural, than healthy and clipped?!) You can see me waffling even now.

There are a lot of things that could cause pain, even among us humans, that need to be clipped sometimes. Kids need to learn not to keep pooping their pants, for instance, and for all the trauma and struggle that is potty-training, it is necessary. We need to learn to share; to be polite, and we need to stand up to evil in this world--all of which in turn is sometimes awkward and painful. I'm not saying the pain is good--or even less that all pain is good; don't misunderstand me. But perhaps I'm saying that pain isn't always bad, or at least isn't always indicating that we shouldn't be doing that thing which causes us pain. (Of course, sometimes pain means just that, too.)

My wife has been having a rough time lately, for a couple reasons, but biggest among them is still her coming to terms with her father's death. They were very close, and the loss is deep. But the pain she is feeling now, I don't think, isn't saying that the love and closeness they felt was bad. In fact, quite the opposite. The depth and profundity of suffering felt now sharpens the realization of how precious and worthwhile that connection with her father was. (Of course, it could go the other way, too, and so hurt her that she not want to connect so deeply with another... but I don't think that will happen.)

Pruning also helps trees deal with trauma--the loss of a limb or lightning strike deals more harshly with wild trees. Wild trees suffer infection more, and one limb crashing down will take out or weigh down many others. Whereas trimmed trees are more nimble, and can direct energy to where it will be most fruitful. This, I think, is what we mean by "healthy" trees--not that pruned trees don't suffer, but that they can deal with the suffering better... that they can direct energy where it is needed.

Is part of ministry the idea of "pruning" and "trimming" congregants with prayer and story, sermon and scripture, so they can more nimbly respond to the needs and hurts of the world? Perhaps "the world's" answer is absolute freedom--grow whichever way you want, you know best what you need, do what feels good, and so on. But does that make us healthy? Does answering our own needs and desires first make us better people, more responsive to the need to change the directions of our energies or attentions, more able to deal healthfully with loss and suffering?

And ministry isn't only pruning, but training and directing and fertilizing and protecting and treating and harvesting. It isn't as if only pruning is all there is to having an apple tree. Similarly, being a minister, or a good friend, is about looking after the whole person, and helping that person be a fruitful, healthy being.

Part of me will have to overcome my sensitivity to pruning, seeing it as one part of a larger, longer campaign to care for my trees. And God's people.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Waging War on Minimum Wage

Congress has managed to lash the minimum wage bill to an Iraq War supplemental spending package. That means the only way to get a higher minimum wage is to vote for more spending for the Iraq war at the same time. This is only set up to make sensible and moral people (primarily Democrats) vote against a minimum wage hike. It serves no other purpose, since no one is going to vote for a war-funding package based on a desire to raise the minimum wage.

NCC General Secretary Bob Edgar sums it up best:

It is reprehensible for Congress to attach the federal minimum wage to a funding request for what most religious leaders in America have called an immoral war. It is also immoral to ask the working poor and other taxpayers to pay for the wage increase by offering tax breaks to business. Offering tax breaks for business and wealthy citizens at the expense of working people across the country has been a hallmark of the current administration. Religious leaders have consistently called the federal budget a moral document and decried its continued preferential option for the rich while the Bible clearly has—as Pope Paul VI stated—'a preferential option for the poor.' (read complete statement here)

Say a prayer, and send a letter. (Courtesy of Faithful America.)

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"Confessions of an Empty-Nester"

A Texan couple caught up in the American Dream of sprawl and consumption gives it all up, downsizes, and relocates to downtown Seattle! A great model for environmental stewards to look at.
Our everyday lives have changed in every way imaginable. We don't own a car, so we walk everywhere, including to and from work. We use the bus or ferry if we want to go farther afield. This has had a profound effect on how we interact with people. We realize now that the cocoons of our cars kept us well insulated from the people around us. Our genuine interactions were with family and coworkers, the only people who saw us stripped of the metal that clothed and protected us. Our neighbors, we discovered, were virtually strangers.

Now, we stand face-to-face with people in our building’s elevators, at our corner hangouts, and on the sidewalks. We chitchat and pet our neighbors’ dogs. We exchange “good mornings” with the people we pass everyday on our way to work. We’ve developed friendships with several proprietors and servers at our favorite restaurants.

Read the posting here:

(Thanks to Drew for pointing this out!)


Sunday, March 11, 2007

snow, daffodils, and Job

I just spent a week in snowy, windy, cold Montreal, made warm by many lovely, shining, grace-filled people. I thoroughly enjoyed the conference I was at, I learned a lot, met wonderful people, and enjoyed being in an old city full of character and life. The city streets were covered in snow, with only narrow pathways for walking, which is a foreign thing for us Pacific Northwesterners who are used to snow melting almost immediately after following, and certainly not accustom to seeing great piles of snow everywhere. It snowed a bit while I was there - the big, thick, fluffy flakes, so lovely. I was glad that our accommodations were well-heated and glad that I had brought a thick hat, long johns and several scarves.

When I returned to Vancouver, one of the first things I noticed on my way home from the airport was that there were daffodils blooming by the side of the road. I adore the spring, seeing all the new life pushing its way into the world, watching in awe as the blossoms rain down. Spring reminds me that life will continue, the sun will shine later and later, and that there is hope, even in the midst of the stresses of school and life and everything else.

And in my wisdom literature class tomorrow I'm presenting on the book of Job. A few weeks ago I was not feeling much affection or sympathy for Job. I thought he was whiny, I thought he was self-absorbed, I thought he should just "shut up and deal with it".

I feel a lot different about him now.

I read the first few chapters of Job while sitting on a cliff overlooking the ocean when I was on Bowen Island last week, I read the rest from a warm chair in a meditation room gazing out on the same ocean. I have a lot of affection for Job. I have a deep appreciation for his voice as it speaks to the rest of the Biblical canon. I have a deep appreciation for his voice as one that can give voice to so many other voices.

This morning I had an experience of feeling like Job as I listened to someone talk about "the power of positive thinking" and how an attitude of gratitude can improve one's life. I couldn't help but think of Job, and think of all the other people who suffer in the world. I do believe that our thoughts carry power and influence, that's part of why I love to write, but I also believe that there are other things that influence our lives. I've been hearing a lot about the movie "The Secret" lately, one that apparently preaches that positive thinking will attract wealth and prosperity. I haven't seen it, and I'm incredibly skeptical of the idea, in fact, I'm rather Job-like about it. Set aside the framing narrative of Job and you have the story of all of our lives: disbelief that we actually experience suffering in spite of trying to live wisely.

Later on in the day today I spoke to a woman who had also heard the same thing I had that morning, and who was rather troubled. She has experienced huge trauma and suffering in her life recently, and was also skeptical about what she had heard. She was having a Job moment. I was able to share with her how I had felt about the experience, and both of us were able to reflect a bit on why it hadn't sat well with either of us.

Suffering isn't something we can justify and it isn't something we can avoid entirely. Suffering is a part of life here on this planet, a place we can't escape from, a place God has called "very good", a place where we all must work together to minimize suffering for all, not just for ourselves.

I think the daffodils can teach us about suffering. Who would have thought that mud could yield such beauty?

Today I planted some tomato seeds. I had told my roommate that I was feeling rather Job-like, and after we got through the planting, she asked if I still felt Job-like. I do, but maybe more like the post-theophany Job, the Job that has been reminded of the goodness of God's creation. I can't wait to see the tomato seeds sprout, and I can't wait to taste the sweet juiciness that will come with the summer.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Americans Get an 'F' in Religion (and other news)

Sometimes dumb sounds cute: Sixty percent of Americans can't name five of the Ten Commandments, and 50% of high school seniors think Sodom and Gomorrah were married.

Read the whole article at USA Today.

The Family Values Sham

As conservatives tell the tale, the decline of the American family, the rise in divorce rates, and the number of children born out of wedlock all can be traced to the pernicious influence of one decade in American history: the '60s.

The conservatives are right that one decade, at least in its metaphoric significance, can encapsulate the causes for the family's decline. But they've misidentified the decade. It's not the permissive '60s. It's the Reagan '80s.

Read the whole article at American Prospect.

Moving Heaven and Earth

The head of one of the world's foremost environmental organizations came to Indianapolis this week with a prophetic message, and brought science and religion along for mutual support.

If the bad news is that catastrophic consequences from fossil fuel-burning already are here and figure to get much, much worse if current trends continue, the good news is that technology, public policy and just plain people can turn it around.

Part of the good news is the Good News.

Read the whole article at the Indianapolis Star.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Church and State: Differing Views

Chris Tessone, an independent Catholic priest, blogged about a recent panel discussion he attended. One recurrent theme he highlights is religious support for the state. The comments on the post are well worth reading, too!

I went to see a fascinating panel at the Law School tonight, hosted by the Duke Law Dems — Stanley Hauerwas, some local evangelical pastor with a PhD from Southeastern, and Howard Lesnick from UPenn Law discussed religion in the public sphere. It would take me a lot of posts to cover all the stuff that was talked about during the two hour panel, but a couple of specific themes came up that I found interesting.

First, the megachurch pastor kept returning to the notion that government is in some significant way divinely ordained. He suggested that Paul's supposed willingness to be executed in Acts 25, coupled with Romans 13, gave a divine imprimatur to the American government. The idea that Paul — who is convinced he has done nothing wrong — is making a statement about the right of Rome to execute people is a bit of a stretch in itself. Dr Hauerwas interrupted the megachurch pastor to mention that Romans 13 cannot be separated from Romans 12 without serious susceptibility to the same kinds of authoritarian theologies that led German Lutherans to serve the Reich. (This was delivered with a conviction and authority that, in my opinion at least, avoided invoking Godwin's Law. :-) ) If the government is to accept the authority supposedly afforded it under Romans 13, it must be prepared to accept the burning coals heaped on its head for its injustices against the righteous
Read the whole post here:


Delegation Seeks Peaceful Means Between US and Iran

We can support them.

In their recent meeting with President Ahmadinejad, members of a religious delegation recently back from Iran learned that Iranian officials are willing to talk about a range of issues if they sense good will from the U.S.

Today members of that delegation are on Capitol Hill visiting several members of Congress. Their message – seek peaceful means of resolving the issues between Iran and the United States.

Today, as the meetings unfold in Washington, we are asking that you speak up in solidarity with these leaders by urging support for direct talks with Iran, opposing additional sanctions for Iran that punish innocent citizens, and supporting additional exchanges of religious leaders in an effort to further the cause of peace.

Let’s make today the beginning of a new path to peace. Through our shared commitment to peace, we can bring leadership to the leaders and help avoid further divisions and possible violence.

Your prayers for peace are also welcome and may be shared on the FaithfulAmerica prayer page.

You can also send a letter to your representatives in Washington, D.C., asking them to meet with and listen to these peacemakers.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Evolutionary Origin of Belief in God

An interesting article in the NY Times magazine on the possible evolutionary origin of the belief in God.
...scientists search for an evolutionary explanation for why belief in God exists — not whether God exists, which is a matter for philosophers and theologians, but why the belief does.

Read the article here.

(Thanks to Jon for pointing this out.)


Labor in the Pulpits

I know it is a bit early to be planning for Labor Day. But Sunday, September 2, is the Sunday before Labor Day - a day in the United States where we intentionally remember and honor the struggles of organized labor, all our forebears have won us through that struggle, and rededicate ourselves to that ongoing quest for workers' rights and dignity. It is also an opportunity for people to become aware of actual labor struggles that are going on around them - actions and issues that all too often go unnoticed.

Speak to your worship planners now, and get it on the calendar so that it won't be scheduled over later. You can invite someone from the labor community to speak - either as the main sermon or as a homily leading up to the sermon - on the situation of organized labor in the country, and what specifically is going on in your community, and most especially how we as Christians and citizens and well-meaning people can engage and participate in those labor struggles to support our fellow workers.

"Labor in the Pulpits" is something that can help make real for congregants the connection between our faith claims about working for a more just world and the concrete struggles to bring about such a world in our midst. It will also broaden our minds as to what all is included under the umbrella of our faith commitment. And it will inject into our worship and church-discussions a real-world note that just might change the key of our singing for an afternoon... maybe longer.

Consider suggesting a "Labor in the Pulpits" element in your churches on September 2. Contact your local Labor Temple, Jobs with Justice Coalition, union or branch of the American Federation of Labor or Change to Win Coalition, to enlist an appropriate representative of the labor movement to speak. You likely have several long-time union members in your own pews!

Some worship resources for this sort of thing on the AFL-CIO website (for future reference) are:

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Currie Cautions Against Gospel-Party Alliances

Portland UCC minister, Chuck Currie, posted a well-phrased caution to religious progressives who would jump into bed with the DNC.
If the new progressive Christian movement is simply here to serve the Democratic Party let me out of the room quick. There may be times when I'm happy to use the democrats (or the republicans for that matter) as a tool for advancing the church's mission but I won't let it be the other way around.

Read the whole (short) post here:


The Difficulty of Judging Success

It's nothing new, I suppose, this difficulty of judging success in ministry. How successful is a sermon, and how do you know? How successful is a presentation on mission? How do I know?

This weekend I presented and preached in southern Oregon. The people were wonderful - kind and hospitable - and the church building was impressive. I couldn't help feeling, however, that my performance at the lecturn on Saturday and again at the pulpit on Sunday would have only merited a six out of ten. People were polite in their compliments, and some said either were interesting, and a few even continued the conversation begun by my speaking (so I know at least they were listening). (And, I think both the presentation and my sermon will be better next week - always refining, always preparing, always looking to improve the next time.)

But even more than my lackluster performance, I am beginning to feel the weight of this job: I feel like, to some extent, I hold the future of the church in my hands, and our death or resurrection rests in my unskilled and clumsy shoulders. People introduce me as the Missionary Coordinator, and I can almost hear the older members breathe in sharply with hope and anticipation, as if I hold the key, as if I by virtue of my age or personality or training can spark the church into successful mission the way they've not seen for fifty years. I spent a good deal of time lately with people who said they had a lot of ideas for mission - and they do, but most of the ideas started with massive financial investments, assuming that lack of money was the key. Some of the ideas were genuinely interesting, and had potential - but many seemed to stop at the identification of the probability of a problem that the church could address - no real knowledge of the nearby community and their actual needs, let alone a way that the church or church members could faithfully respond to a need. Some of these people assume that just informing me of the potential for church mission is enough for me to single-handedly design and implement a wildly successful evangelism program.

I have to remind myself that this is vanity, too, to think that everything relies on me - that God has no part in it, that the responsibility isn't shared among every member, that I can only do so much with my finitude, and so on.

I also have to remind myself that this vision of single-handedly packing pews and baptismal fonts is not my vision of what I want to do. I really do believe we ought to be about the work of growing people, not churches; forming healthy individuals, not counting heads; developing disciples, not filling fonts. And that work doesn't require a loads of cash, it requires loads of time and energy and sincerity.

Don't get me wrong, cash helps. But cash implies product and success in immediate quantifiable exchange. Dedication of time, energy, and sincerity, will meet with a lot of failure, mixed reaction and frustration, as well as insight, growth and small, surprising successes.

As long as we're fixated on continuing the institution, we'll measure success or failure by the world's values, not God's. As long as we're focused on maintaining and filling church buildings, we'll overlook the genuine mission of Jesus and Zion - to be in the world making a difference.

I am beginning to feel that my job - in part - is to remind church members that they can't buy someone to do mission for them. They have to be prepared to do mission - and that means sacrificing some time, some energy, and a lot of sincerity. Few people are brought to Christ by a lecture. Most are brought by a friend, or a friendship. Disciples are not made through an evangelism tract. Disciples are formed through engagement with the world, most often via a community that engages the world in discipleship together. Being Christian in our world isn't an individual thing, but a communal activity. Part of my job is to help build up that communal activity; and part of it is to break down the idea that mission is something we hire someone else to do. Our world is in desperate need of transformation, and it's going to take all of us to transform it.

And, frankly, I don't know if we'll ever be able to know if we've been successful or not, until we've changed the whole world.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

reporting from Montreal

I am in Montreal for the annual conference of the Canadian Theological Students' Association and I LOVE Montreal. It is a beautiful city and a wonderful place to be in for a conference. The theme of the conference is "Stewards of Creation: Theology and Sustainability" which is an excellent theme for today's context.

Tonight we heard a keynote address from Dr. Jenny Plane Te Paa, and she addressed the issue of Indigenous persons in relation to issues of sustainability. She focused on the need for sustainable relationships in order to begin the work of sustainable living. I agree wholeheartedly. If we don't have relationships and communities that can support us then it is difficult to make the sacrifices and hard choices that are needed to live more responsibly in the face of environmental crises.

This is a fascinating context in which to address these issues since it is an ecumenical environment. I'm finding myself contemplating denominationalism and its outcroppings. Are we more post-denominational than ecumenical these days? How much do denominations define us? Why are they and aren't they important? When we can unite in wise practices of living, does it matter what we believe or how we believe what we believe?

What do you think?


Friday, March 02, 2007

Christian Churches in Communist East-Central Europe Lecture @ UW

The Christian Churches as 'Free Spaces' in Communist East Central Europe: The Slovak and East German Cases

When: Thursday, March 08, 2007- 3:30 PM
Where: Communications 126 Details
David Doellinger (Western Oregon University) is a specialist on the history of Christianity in East Central Europe during the Communist era. He has published, among other things, articles on pacifism in Communist East Germany and religious pilgrimages in Communist Czechoslovakia.

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Lecture at UW

The Legend of Mar Qardagh: Narrative & Christian Heroism in Late Antique Iraq
Part of the Simpson Center's New Books in Print Lecture Series

When: Wednesday, March 07, 2007- 4:00 PM
Where: Communications 202 Download e-Flyer

Drawing on both literary and artistic sources, this pioneering study by Joel Walker uses an early 7th-century Christian martyr legend to elucidate the culture and society of late antique Iraq. The legend of Mar Qardagh introduces a hero of epic proportions—one who hunts like a Persian King, argues like a Greek philosopher, and renounces his Zoroastrian family to live with monks high in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan.

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Church News!

(For readers who are members of the Community of Christ....)

The Presidency just released a "Letter of Counsel" outlining changes in the leadership quorums of the church.

All the changes seem inspired, but two stand out as particularly inspiring: First, to fill a vacancy in the Presidency (Ken Robinson is retiring) Becky Savage has been called - the first woman in the First Presidency! More than twenty years after women have been being ordained to the priesthood, it's no real surprise or shock, but it is still a landmark. The only question is how Savage will bring her recent work as (new) head of leadership development into her new position.

Second, and particularly thrilling for me, the International Director of Peace and Justice Ministries and a personal friend, Andrew Bolton (pictured) is being called to fill a vacancy in the Council of Twelve. The foremost activist and minister for peace and justice is now an international officer. A drawback to this change is that Bolton's position as director and coordinator of P&J ministries will not be filled in his absence - which means that although Bolton will surely direct much of his ministry in the direction of peace and justice, the church will no longer have a full-time position dedicated to moving peace and justice work and understanding in the church. And students at Graceland will surely miss such a dynamic teacher, as I imagine Bolton won't have time to continue being an adjunct professor there.

I'm in the percarious position of wanting TWO people be my Apostle! (In our church, we have twelve "Apostles" which serve as special witnesses of Christ and have administrative responsibilities over different regions of the earth; and right now- by an unusual coincidence, my mother-in-law is "my" Apostle, whom I deeply love and respect, of course.) I suppose several of us in the Pacific Northwest will have to pick up our share of the Peace and Justice banner and march on while Andrew challenges and encourages others elsewhere.

"Congratulations" never seem like the right thing to give to people who have received ministerial callings. But considering how richly blessed the church will be, I congratulate the church at large! This is really exciting news.


Off to Oregon

I'll be leaving for Oregon in a few minutes - to present on Mission in Today's World using the fifth-century mission of Saint Patrick to the pagan Irish Celts as a model. :-)

On Sunday, I'll be preaching in Eugene, enjoying potluck, and then returning home.

Hopefully the library will have some good books-on-tape when I stop by on my way out of town. :-) Wish me luck and safe driving conditions!


Thursday, March 01, 2007

Counterfeit God?

"Son, your ego is writing checks your body can't cash!" or, er... something like that.

News that will surprise you:

Thanks to Jon for pointing this out!