Saturday, February 16, 2013

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Bible Doesn't Say Things.

My Interweb United Methodist friend, John Meunier, wrote a neat post about the United Methodist Doctrine regarding the Holy Scriptures. You should go and read it. It's good. No seriously, go ahead, I'll wait.

Did you read the comments? This is my response to what both John and the commenters wrote:

Ever wonder why the Articles from the MEC lists out the books of the Old Testament? Because the canon of scripture wasn't yet settled at the time of its writing. Also notice that Lamentations didn't make the cut? (don't worry, at that time it was considered a part of Jeremiah). However, today the church still can't decide what "The Bible" is. The Southern Baptist Convention just voted to boycott the NIV2011. Most mainline Protestants wouldn't be caught dead toting around the King James Version. So are they not the Bible? Only the Greek and Hebrew, then? Or perhaps only the autographs? (that's the original writings, for non bible nerd.) What about the Apocrypha? Oh, but which Apocrypha? More Christians on the planet include those pesky extra books in their canon than not. So tell, me, what is THE Bible?

I've come to hate the phrase, "the Bible says." Mainly because what follows usually includes someone's interpretation of "The Bible" rather than what is simply written. And while we're on the subject, the Bible doesn't say anything. It's a book. I know that many would consider it a silly semantic argument, but books don't say anything. Their authors do. And when we get the book confused with the author (and I consider God to be the chief author), we run a major risk of idolatry.

Take a look at those articles/confession. Their authors never claim that the Bible SAYS anything.

The scriptures contain [that which was put in them].

Whatever is read therein (not whatever it says).

Both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ (by Christ, in--or through--the scriptures).

The Holy Bible...reveals the Word of God so far as it is necessary for our salvation. It is to be received through the Holy Spirit (the Holy Bible is NOT the Word of God ['cause that's actually Jesus] but reveals the Word to us as it is received by both its human authors and its human readers through the Holy Spirit.)

Additionally, the article is written that, "The law given from God by Moses" (and didn't drop magically out of the sky. Moses and others wrote it all down. We seem to have a team of authors, though God is the chief author.)

My friend Bobby Ray likes to say it like this:

The Bible was divinely inspired (He acts out the scene, as he furrows his brow and scratches his beard in thought, closes his eyes in prayer, opens them, and then writes a little bit), it was not divinely inspired (his head lolls back facing the ceiling, and with his eyes rolled back in his head, he scribbles manically.)

So please stop saying the Bible says things. It sounds really silly to non-believers (and to this believer). The Bible is a thing, and is not to be worshiped; though it is perhaps the most powerful thing we have that points to the divine persons to be worshiped.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Economics of the Kingdom

This is my response to what Mark Beeson, lead pastor of Granger Community Church (A United Methodist congregation) set out in the premise of this blog post: How do we talk about our national debt?

But first, a clip from the most brilliant episode of South Park, ever.

Now, as someone who has studied social theory, I feel the need to point out a very common misunderstanding of the definition of communism.

Communism is an economic system in which the ownership of the means of production is held by the people, where then the people use a democratic political system decide how to use what it has produced.

That being said, there has never been a communist nation in modernity, despite how a nation may choose to label itself. Democratic communism does, however, work in small communities such as a Kibutz.

Socialism is trickier. Social theorist Karl Marx originally conceived it to be a transitional state between feudalism or capitalism and communism, but some social theorists have proposed political/economic systems by which a socialist economic system can be bypassed. The problem that has historically risen is that Marxist socialism has called for a revolution and, "dictatorship of the proletariat." Which sounds great--the people rising against corrupt markets and governments to take control of their own lives--until you realize that once the proletariat rises against the bourgeoisie, they realize why the bourgeoisie was so reluctant to give up their position in the first place. That's why we have the Castro family in charge of Cuba for so long. The same goes for all other CINOs (communists in name only).

Due to fallen human nature, all humanly conceived political/economic systems eventually fragment society where a small portion of the population has the lion's share of power and money. We are living it out in our representative democracy that employs a hybrid capitalist/socialist economic system (For the record there's has never been such thing as pure capitalism; as soon as there's a law about money, a political system has adopted a tenant of socialism).

Capitalism is no more Christian as socialism, communism, feudalism, or any combination of these economic systems. All of them have the potential to be used for or against the Kingdom.

My point to all of this is, there is no preferable economic system for a Christian other than theistic feudalism (Jesus is king, and he owns all of it) characterized by radical generosity and hospitality of the people of his Kingdom. We have to live that out incarnationally in whatever political/economic system we find ourselves. We cannot solve issues of justice through changing systems, but changing hearts, and through that, change the culture. The kingdom's economic system is: give yourself away.

This is what the Gospel says after Jesus feed more than 5,000 people.

Luke 9.23-25 - Jesus said to everyone, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will save them. What advantage do people have if they gain the whole world for themselves yet perish or lose their lives?"

Now for more South Park.

Thursday, July 01, 2010


My thumb hurts. I can't use it--the one on my left hand. I'm left handed. I have gout. The first time I had it was just after I turned 25. That was eight years ago. I woke up one morning and I thought I had broken my left ankle. In my sleep. It took a year and two more flare ups before the doctors stopped thinking of me as a clumsy drunk (I was going to the campus clinic) and actually considered that something medical might be wrong. Up until six months ago I thought I only got gout in my knees and ankles. But this winter I got it in my elbow. Yesterday it set in in my thumb.

Today, I have been married to Beth for four years. She is truly a saint and my relationship with her is a gift to me from God. I pray that for her, I am at least half of what she is to me. I'm older than Beth by seven years. The men in my family seem to die (or almost die) before the average age of American males. The women in Beth's family live into their late eighties and early nineties. Since Beth and I have been dating, it was obvious that my body is going to fall apart at a sooner date than hers.

I had to ask my wife of four years today to apply my deodorant for me. I can't grasp it in my left hand right now. I can't use my left hand for much of anything right now except to keep my watch from falling off of my wrist. It was humbling experience to stand there as she helped me do this simple task of reducing the amount that I will sweat today. But it wasn't humiliating. I don't know if I would have not been embarrassed four years ago to ask her to do this. Four years ago I might have just not put on deodorant and kept my right arm close to my body all day (which would have been awkward at the reception when we danced to Y.M.C. A).

Marriage is not just about humbling one's self to one's partner to help and to serve, but it is also about humbling yourself to be served. Perhaps marriage can help to take us back to the point in the Bible where the first people were with each other, naked and unashamed--a nakedness that extends beyond the physical and includes the entirety of the person, revealing the Imago Dei in which we were created to both others and ourselves.

God said it is not good for humans to be alone. Being alone does not make us less human, but outside relationships I'm not sure if we can know exactly who God is and who God is calling us to be.

Thanks be to God for the people in our lives through whom God reveals God's self to us.

Thanks be to God for Jesus who shows us what it means to be loving servants and friends to one another.

Thanks be to God for my relationship with Beth, without whom I'm not sure I'd be the person and Christian I have grown to be today.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Constructively Criticizing Proposed Changes to the Appointment System

Just want to get this out in the open at the get-go:

There's a general understanding among some United Methodists that if one is a candidate for ordination, it is not one's place to criticize (even constructively) the denomination, its board, agencies, doctrine, or discipline. In accordance with my conscience, I respectfully disagree.

That being said, I'd like to respond to the article: Commission rejects clergy job guarantees

I'm not happy with the shift of more power to the top of the hierarchy.

Off the top of my head, this is what I'd like to see change if we're committed to this course of action:

  • The ability to opt out of the pension program.
  • A clear metric which can be adapted situationally to each unique pastor/parish pairing to measure clergy effectiveness. Effectiveness looks different in a deeply wounded small declining rural church as it does with a reasonably healthy mid-sized suburban church. For my internship at Perkins, I will write a learning covenant in which I will state my learning goals that has to be approved by a earning committee at the internship placement and the internship director. I'm then expected to meet those goals in a time specified. Perhaps a pastoral covenant should be developed at each charge with the Staff-Parish Relations Committee, the District Superintendent, and the pastor. What this means, is actually having a purpose behind charge conference paperwork and year end reports at the local church level.
  • Greater consideration of family situations in appointment making. My wife is most likely going to be the primary bread-winner in my household. I know of a clergy person who cannot commit to the interent because her husband is a M.D. committed to his call. Other considerations would be educational support for special needs chidden and medical consideration for immediate and extended family members under the car of pastors. Perhaps all or some of this is done in some Annual Conferences already.
  • Longer appointments. In other words, a guarantee of three years or more at a charge instead of the one-year-at-a-time model used now. From my understanding, bishops and District Superintendents are appointed that way (I'd look it up, but I foolishly packed my Book of Discipline, already).
  • Conference pay structure. This may be a peripheral issue, but I think that if the Cabinet is going to determine whether or not clergy persons have a job, then the Conference needs to pay our salaries. (This may also fix some of the issues behind the jacked-up clergy tax status.) Salaries would be supported by an apportionment line-item broken down for each congregation by a decimal or some other equitable means. This will allow greater flexibility in the appointment process, taking the size or financial strength of a congregation out of the equation. Thus, a pastor with significant gifts in rural church ministry can be appointed to a church that could currently only support a part time local pastor. This would better insure that a clergy person is truly being employed according to his or her graces.

Ultimately, what this committee's findings say to me is that the ordination process is completely broken. As long and involved as the process is, people are being ordained who are not effective clergy persons. Isn't the process of the DCOM, BOM, RIM program, and to some extent even our seminaries, supposed to determine clergy effectiveness? If the ordination process is not roken, then, what flaws within the way our denomination does church is breaking clergy.

As I see it, either ineffective clergy are being ordained, or something is happening in the course of ordained ministry that is negatively affecting clergy effectiveness. It seems odd to put all the blame and focus on the individual clergy person.

To those who are invested in this system, what say you?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Doctrinal Word Clouds

Fun Fact: The "United" in United Methodist has nothing to do with our connectional nature. As one professor said, tongue in cheek, "United Methodists are about as united as Free Methodists are free." The "United" actually comes from the Evangelical United Brethren Church which merged with the Methodist Church in 1969.

Most people in the UMC have never heard of the Evangelical United Brethren. This is a sad thing.

In the merger, the doctrinal statements of both traditions were adopted by the UMC. The Methodists brought to the new church the Articles of Religion and the EUB brought the Confessions of Faith. The AR has 25 Articles that have been passed down exactly as John Wesley gave them to the Methodist Episcopal Church, with two extra ones that tagged along at from the 1939 Uniting Conferences. The CF had been modified to keep the language and understanding of the theology of the EUB current.

There's a website called Wordle that generates word clouds. The basic gist of it is, you enter a body of text in the word cloud generator and it produces an image made up of the words of the text. The more times a word is mentioned in a body of text, the bigger the word. check out what John 14.15-31 looks like.

The most frequently used words in the NRSV version of the text are Father, love, word, keep, and so on.

So what happens when we take then entire body of the Articles of Religion from the Methodist Church and put them in Wordle?

The words Christ, God, faith, sin, Book, and Supper, become prominent.

Now, lets see what happens with the Confessions of Faith from the Evangelical United Brethren.

Wozzers. Believe is just kinda out there, followed by God, Christ, Holy, Spirit, Christian, faith, power, Jesus, sin, grace, Baptism, and so on.

In the merger, the two were deemed compatible doctrinal statements (which I think is debatable), but there are definitely some major differences in emphasis. "Believe" is featured prominently in the EUB Confession, because due to its confessional nature, every article begins with the words, "We believe." The Methodist Articles are structured more like doctrinal statements. Other things I noticed were:
  • Trying to find the word "Jesus" in the AR is harder then in the CF.
  • "Baptism" is bigger in the CF and "Supper" is bigger in the AR. Could this be because of the Methodist strong connection to the Anglican tradition and the EUB connection to the German Pietist/Anabaptist traditions?
  • "God" is slightly larger than "Christ" in the CF, and "Christ" is slightly larger than "God" in the AR.
  • "Spirit" in the CF is more prominent than "Ghost" is in the AR.
  • Both lack inclusive language for humans.
  • "Repugnant" is such a cool word, but it's only found in the AR.
What are some things you notice?

Friday, April 02, 2010

A Good Friday Prayer - Psalm 22

My God, Our God, sometimes we find the words of your Son upon our lips:

Why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from helping us?

Do you not hear us calling out to you?

In long days and even longer nights, we cry out to you but so often we receive no answer; we find no relief.

The rest of the year we hear stories from your scripture of how others cried out and were saved.

But tonight we feel the full burden of our helplessness as we see Jesus,our friend, our brother, mocked, scourged, and killed upon the cross.

Those of the world mock us for believing in what seems like foolishness, that God became like us to be killed for all our wrongdoing.

You are the God of our childlike faith, but now that we are older, doubt assails us from all sides.

Those who do not believe in you grow in boldness every year.

Our bodies and minds age and fail us.

Our nation struggles economically.

Nations war against nations—people against people.

Suffering and death surround us.

Civility passes by the way side.

Friends turn against friends.

Religious communities are rend apart.

Hypocrisy abounds.

In our darkest days the Evil One works in our midst scattering us as the disciples were.

But into your hands, O Lord, we commend our entire selves.

We trust in your Son.

We trust in what we memorialize this day, his mighty act on the cross.

Even when we cannot hear your voice, sense you are listening, or feel your presence, we trust and know you are with us, that you hear our cries to you, and that you continue to speak to us through your Holy Spirit.

So we praise you together as a congregation.

We tell the story of your love to all we can, in every way we can, for as long as we can, so that people from around the world may turn to The Christ--the one who has freed us from the power of sin and death.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gratuitous Cat Post

We have three cats. If you don't care about cats, then there's nothing to see here. Move along, move along...

The cat thing started like this: We moved into the parsonage and that day, an emaciated pathetic yellow cat sat at our back door and meowed at us. I looked at Beth and said, "That cat is not coming inside, no matter how pathetic it looks." I'm allergic to cats. But that night, Beth couldn't find me--because I was outside petting the cat. That was on Wednesday. By Friday I told Beth I was taking the cat to the vet to get all the requisite shots to bring him inside. It took a year before my immune system adapted (my lower eyelids would get puss-filled; gross, I know). Turns out, he was the last pastor's cat who ran away when they started moving. Since being taken in, he has gone to great lengths to make sure he'll never be hungry again and has grown to be about 17 pounds (he was over 18 before we put him on a diet last year). That was Wesley. He's more my cat than Beth's. He purrs loud and hard and is just a sweet cat all around.

A few months later, our Lay Leader came to a church baseball game with a new kitten that she got from a litter her sister cat had--and there were still more kittens to give away. So we took one to be Wesley's friend. That didn't work out so well. We had to take Luther with us to Springfield when we went to homecoming because we were afraid Wesley might eat him. He used to be very brave and bold, but after a traumatizing incident with the mattress delivery men, he's the biggest scaredy cat (he was hiding under the bed and then they took the bed). He spends a lot of time under the bed, but will come out if you make him a cave out of pillows. Luther's a jumper. I've gone out to the kitchen in the morning and have found things left on top of the refrigerator knocked to the floor. He is thoroughly Beth's cat--not to say he doesn't like me, cause he does. But he LOVES Beth. He's very playful; he plays both peek-a-boo, plays chase, and does somersaults while chirping all the way.

I found Merdock last September in the parking lot of the church after a church council meeting. We were in the fellowship hall and I had seen him walk back and forth a few times in front of the glass doors. After everyone had left, while I was locking up, I saw him huddled in the middle of the lot. I walked up to him, scruffed him and picked him up saying, "What's your deal, little guy?" When I turned him around, I saw that one of his eyes was building out of his head and the other was collapsed in. My heart broke. I took him to the house and put him in a cardboard box full of litter. He staggered around and was suffering from diarrhea. Beth and I decided to take him to the vet to have him euthanized. Since it was his last night on earth, I gave him a can of the good cat food. The next morning we found that he had eaten nearly 1/2 pound of cat food (he wasn't any more than 3.5 lbs). He was a different cat; his waste was solid and he was coordinated and lively. We took him to the vet to find out about his eyes and to get him healthy. Turned out he had bacterial feline chlamydia that can be passed on from the mother at birth. The plan was to get him healthy and find him a home or take him to a no-kill shelter. Beth said that two cats was plenty, but I wanted to keep him. Since I was in school, Beth ended up having to take care of him, giving him his medicine and feeding him and making sure he was sequestered away from the other cats until he was curred of all communicable diseases. Then one night, after Beth had given Merdock his eye medicine, he crawled up in her lap and went to sleep. Neither Wesley nor Luther were lap cats at the time; this broke Beth's heart and I got to keep the cat. He maneuvers about the house as if he could see (When excited, he sometimes runs into walls). Because he climbs and can't jump to get up on things, he's built like a bulldog with huge shoulders and tiny back legs.

Turns out, Merdock was six months old when we took him in. he was just so malnourished that he was so small. When we took him in, he had a cat face, not a kitten face, and a full set of adult teeth. In the next three months he put on 9 lb. Merdock is the alpha cat. This doesn't make sense until you realize that cats establish dominance through staring. Merdock orients his head toward whatever he's attending too so he can hear and feel (with his whiskers) what's ahead of him. The other cats try to stare him down, but you can't stare down a blind cat. Plus, because his front legs are so powerful, when he wrestles with the other cats, they can't get loose--he latches on and bites their faces. He's our most playful as he has to be physical to really interact with us. He'll wrestle and fight my hand, and loves crawling up on us to nuzzle our faces.

The first two are obviously named after John Wesley and Martin Luther (we feed three outside cats, too, named Fletcher [after Methodist theologian John William Fletcher] Suzie [after John Wesley's mom, Susanna] and Sam [after John Wesley's dad]). Merdock was blind and had a tendency to jump [blindly] from heights (from your arms, the top of the washing machine, etc.). There's a Marvel superhero named The Daredevil: The man without fear. The character happens to be blind, and is name is Matt Merdock. So we named our last cat after the Daredevil, as he is the cat without fear.

That's the story of our cats. Hope I didn't bore you too greatly.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's In You.

Jeremy Smith is talkin' 'bout this new thing called Seven Hills Theology. I get a bit freaked out anytime someone develops some new religious idea out of some obscure verse reference out of Revelation, but that's just me. It's what I would call--using Jeremy's parlance--a bad hack.

Anyway, this seven hills theology works like this.
To establish The Kingdom of God on the earth, we must claim and possess The Seven Mountains of Culture, namely: Business, Government, Religion, Family, Media, Education and Entertainment. - Jeremy Smith quoting a seven-mountaineer.
Now, I can see if you were one of those folks who thinks that God predestines some to be saved and others to be damned that this would make sense (those folks would be called Calvinists). The Kingdom of God would obviously need to be advanced by acquisition of power to subject the damned to the laws of the Kingdom of God. That way all the saved Christian people don't have to put up with the fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy,drunkenness, and carousing of those poor saps to whom God didn't hand out a free ticket to heaven.

If you can't tell, I don't like this perspective. At all.

Now, according to Wesley's sermon, "The Way to the Kingdom," the Kingdom of God exists within those who Christ indwells by the Holy Spirit. This goes back to the old notion that wherever the king is, there is his kingdom. Wesley believes both that God desires everyone to be saved by coming into a loving relationship with him through Jesus AND that free will has been restored to all people (by God) to call on Jesus for salvation or not. So rather than Christians forcefully taking control of the so-called Seven Mountains and imposing the Kingdom, God grows the kingdom person by person. And the Kingdom is wherever you see people living out the love of God exemplified by joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I hesitate to use a consumerist-based analogy, but its a bit like the difference between a hard sell by a pushy salesman and viral marketing where the consumers advertise the product themselves because they truly believe in it. But The Kingdom is much more than a product. It's a relationship with Jesus that changes people from the inside out, 'cause if the Spirit of the King dwells inside of me, wherever I go, the Kingdom is literally at hand. Its not about taking control of the existing systems by force of will, and making it into the Kingdom of God, its about building a new Kingdom, person by person...relationship by relationship. And all are invited to be a living part of that Kingdom through their friendship with the King, not harshly ruled over by the tyranny of God's subjects.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Why Do We Go Home?

At the end of John's account of the Gospel, Mary Magdalene finds the tomb of Jesus empty and runs to tell the other disciples that his body had been stolen. When Peter and the "disciple that Jesus loved" arrive at the tomb, they discover that it is empty just as Mary said.

I have come to believe that "the disciple Jesus loved" or the Beloved Disciple is a multifaceted character. I believe that he may represent in some way the eye witness account of part of Jesus' ministry. That he did not write the fourth Gospel account, but was the bearer of the stories that were later recorded by an evangelist in what scholars now call the Johannine community. In other words, the Beloved Disciple is a true character in the Gospel account and a real historical person who was actually there. I do not think he is John bar Zebedee.

But more importantly, I believe that the Beloved Disciple is a null set. The evangelist is a brilliant writer and employs a vast array of literary tools throughout his/her/their Gospel account. In several instances, there are major characters in the Fourth Gospel who are not given names. In these cases, the reader is drawn directly into the story, invited to put himself or herself in the place of the unnamed character, be it the Samaritan woman at the well or the man born blind, An argument can be made that the same goes for Lazarus and Nicodemus. These null set characters can be played like Mad Libs, inserting your own name into the story. So what happens when we become the Beloved Disciple?

First, we find ourselves reclining on the chest of Jesus as he shares his last meal with the disciples before his crucifixion. Next we find ourselves at the feet of Jesus on the cross, as he tells us that his mother is now our mother. Then we find ourselves running to the tomb to discover that it's empty.

Then we go home.

There's no wonder, no excitement. Not even fear or confusion or depression. We see something amazing and then we just go home. They say that every Sunday is a little Easter where we celebrate the fact that the tomb is empty, but then when the service is over (and it better be before noon), we all just go home. Sure, the tomb is empty, but our reaction is more like someone has stolen the body rather than Jesus has been resurrected. And so we go home. We go back to our lives as if nothing is different.

Sure, Jesus shows up in the upper room that evening and again a week later, but again, nothing changes.

The next time we find ourselves in the place of the Beloved Disciple, we're on a boat fishing when the miraculous occurs. Why is it only now that we see the risen Christ? What can move us, like the Beloved Disciple, to tell the story of Jesus to others?

What gets lost between seeing the empty tomb and sharing the story of salvation? What sort of miraculous catch do we need to experience before we follow Jesus? Why do so many of us that call ourselves disciples just go home?